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Christmas opera coming to Hillsboro

Professionals from around the country being brought in by Tabor colleagues

News editor

Music gets up close and personal at Christmas when carolers start making the rounds of homes, but professional singers performing a beloved Christmas opera will be just right down the street when “Amahl and the Night Visitors” comes to Hillsboro on Dec. 15.

J. Bradley Baker and Jen Stephenson could each get tired just reading each other’s resumes. Baker, a pianist, and Stephenson, a vocalist, have multiple roles supporting the music program at Tabor College, yet also extend their activities beyond the college through teaching and performing, adjudicating contests, and other professional activities.

However, they have found time to collaborate outside of Tabor by creating a unique opera company, Music on Site, that eschews traditional settings for novel ones.

“One of our missions is to increase accessibility of music throughout central Kansas through engaging performances in unique spaces,” Baker said. “We think of opera more in terms of drama, and not in terms of this grand production. We try to make it more personal, with a focus on storytelling.”

The pair staged their first full production last spring at the 20th Center in Wichita.

“It’s basically an old home with a Victorian parlor,” Baker said. “The show actually takes place in a Victorian parlor. Absolutely no seat was available.”

National auditions by video and live performance were held to fill the major roles for “Amahl and the Night Visitor.”

“We have one coming in from Atlanta, one from Houston, and another from St. Louis,” Baker said.

The remaining roles will be filled by regional talent. Of local note among them is Hillsboro’s own Olivia Kliewer and Tabor’s Casey Guthals.

Baker said he and Stephenson are excited to bring the Gian Carlo Menotti opera to Hillsboro.

“It’s such an incredible story,” Baker said. “The show was broadcast on TV for the longest time, so I would expect many who will be in attendance will have seen it on TV when they were younger.”

The story revolves around a stop the three kings make on their trip to find baby Jesus, the Messiah. They encounter Amahl, a young boy with disabilities at the house where they stay, and the opera is about how they help each other out in time of need.

“The show is about 45 to 50 minutes long,” Baker said. “It’s one of our goals to do these productions at little to no ticket costs.

The 7 p.m. Dec. 15 production at First Mennonite Church is free to attend, and free will offerings will be accepted.

Those who can’t make the Hillsboro performance have two additional chances to attend: 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at Westwood Presbyterian Church in Wichita, and 4 p.m. Dec. 17 at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton.

Last modified Dec. 7, 2017

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