Weekend picks: ‘Amahl’ at California Opera, ‘Christmas Carol’ at Fresno City, ‘Violins of Hope’ at Fresno State,’ holiday concert at Fresno Phil, and a ‘Joyful Noise’

On this busiest of cultural weekends, here are five picks for promising events that will be here and gone faster than you can say “Happy holidays”:

‘Amahl and the Night Visitor’ and ‘Doctors at the MET,’ California Opera

Performance: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3.

Venue: Mercedes Edwards Theatre, Clovis.

Tickets: Free; donations accepted. Reserved seating is available.

Details: California Opera website.

Consider this a double-header of one-act performances. The title role in the holiday classic “Amahl and the Night Visitors” is played by 9-year-old Peter Wu, who lives in Saratoga and is in the fourth grade at Marshall Lane Elementary School. He says he has liked singing and listening to music since he was very young, and his favorite moment in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” – the holiday classic written in 1951 by Gian Carlo Menotti – is the song “Don’t Cry, Mother Dear.”


According to the program, the company’s artistic director, Edna Garabedian, began working with Peter a little more than a year ago, with her eye on the role for him. Having had to skip the 2020 holiday season, she was pleased to be able to introduce Peter to audiences this year in Menotti’s annual holiday favorite. Edna has been working with Peter online through Zoom sessions to help prepare him for this role.

Pictured above: Clockwise from top left: Jill Gardner of ‘Home for the Holidays,’ Peter Wu of ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors,’ Fresno City College’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ one of the ‘Violins of Hope,’ the logo for ‘Joyful Noise,’ and Timothy LeFebvre of ‘Home for the Holidays.’ 

Leading roles are played by Alexandra Jerinic (Mother), Limuel Forgey (Melchior), Joseph Yeh (Kaspar), Jason Vincent (Balthazar), and Kirk Cruz (Page).

The second part of the program is the traditional “Doctors at the MET” concert featuring singing physicians Dr. John Ambrose, Dr. Avis Ambrose, Dr. Donald Gaede, Dr. Harvey Edmonds, and Dr. Marshall Flam. I love the idea of doctors turned opera singers; it’s so much more cheery to have gorgeous music rather than, say, test results or admonitions to exercise more coming out of your physician’s mouth. Musical selections include arias from “Pagliacci” and “Tosca,” musical theater tunes from “A Secret Garden,” “RENT” and “The Impossible Dream,” and Christmas songs by Sara Bareilles and Walter Kent.

‘A Christmas Carol,’ Fresno City College

Performances: 1 and 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4.

Venue: Fresno City College Holiday Faire.

Tickets: Free. (Parking is, too.)

Details: Fresno City College theater website.

There are two ways to experience this radio-show version of “A Christmas Carol”: A live, outdoor performance will be held in conjunction with a Holiday Faire on the Fresno City College campus; and a recorded version will be played on KYNO–940 AM on the following dates: 10 a.m. Dec. 12, 4 p.m. Dec. 19, and 7 p.m. Dec. 23.

The theater department has built a temporary outdoor stage for the live performances. This is an abbreviated version of the classic tale – think of it as the “greatest hits” approach – that still brings you the important parts of the storyline, including Marley and the Three Ghosts.

Mark Standriff, a familiar presence (and voice) on the local theater scene, will get the first chance in his long theater and radio career to play Scrooge – even though this will be the 18th production of “A Christmas Carol” for him. He told me:

“It’s just a really short, tight, punchy version. If you know the story, you’ll be satisfied. And, if for some reason you’ve been in a Christmas cave this whole time and you’ve never seen ‘A Christmas Carol,’ you still get the essence of what Dickens was trying to get at: This is the time of year where souls get saved. It’s just a wonderful little piece.”

For an extended interview with Standriff, including the story of how he met his future wife in a production of “A Christmas Carol,” click here.

‘Violins of Hope,’ Fresno State Symphony Orchestra

Performance: 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4.

Venue: Fresno State Concert Hall.

Tickets: $15 general, $12 seniors, $8 students.

Details: Ticket Source.

This is indeed a special concert for conductor Thomas Loewenheim and his Fresno State Symphony Orchestra. Benjamin Kirk has a detailed account on the College of Arts and Humanities blog about the event, which features 10 restored violins and one cello that survived the Holocaust.

“Most of my family did not make it through the Holocaust, and most died in concentration camps,“ Loewenheim told Kirk. “We live in a fragile world, and I believe that remembering through art and music and approaching this sensitive topic through these instruments will leave a long-lasting memory of the people who will attend the concert.”

Loewenheim has a personal connection to Amnon Weinstein, the violin maker who in 1996 put out a call to restore instruments used in Holocaust death camps. Weinstein made violins for Loewenheim, his mother and his grandfather.

The restored violins usually reside in Tel Aviv, but they are on a tour that includes stops in Fresno. I asked Loewenheim about the logistics of the tour. “They are currently in Los Angeles as they will have more concerts there, and will be brought into town by the president of the Violins of Hope in Los Angeles, Mrs. Susanne Reyto, who will also speak at the concert,” he wrote in an email.

The program, Kirk writes, includes “Fanfare” by Ben-Haim, “Baal-Shem: Three Pictures of Chassidic Life” by Ernest Bloch, John Williams’ “Three Pieces from Schindler’s List” and symphonic work “Mathis der Maler” by Paul Hindemith. Additionally, as the concert occurs during Hanukkah, Rabbi Rick Weiner from Temple Israel will light the hanukkia as part of the event.

‘Home for the Holidays,’ Fresno Philharmonic

Performance: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 4.

Venue: Saroyan Theatre.

Tickets: $25-$81.

Details: Fresno Philharmonic website.

Saturday’s concert will be significant not only for spreading holiday cheer but also because it marks the orchestra’s move back into the Saroyan Theatre after a pandemic absence. (The fall Masterworks concerts this season have been held in the smaller Shaghoian Hall.)

The guest artists are opera singers Jill Gardner (soprano) and Timothy LeFebvre (baritone).

The program includes music from “The Nutcracker,” “Frozen” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” as well as other traditional holiday favorites (“Sleigh Ride,” “White Christmas” and more). Rei Hotoda conducts. Even though the audience will need to be masked, the concert will conclude with the traditional holiday audience sing-along.

‘Joyful Noise,’ Fools Collaborative

Performance: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5.

Venue: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, 2101 N. Fruit Ave., Fresno.

Tickets: $10 or Pay-What-You-Can.

One of my favorite holiday events is the “Joyful Noise” cabaret and fundraiser by the Fools Collaborative. This year’s fourth annual installment benefits the Eco Village Project of Fresno.

If you’re looking for a holiday all-star lineup, this is the place to be. Many prominent members of the Fresno theatre community are scheduled to perform at the “Joyful Noise” fundraiser, including Joel C. Abels, Daniel Abels Rodriguez, Taylor Abels Rodriguez, Brooke Aiello, Ren Burley, Dominic Grijalva, Jimmy Haynie, Amalie Larsen, Kyle Lowe, and Lex Martin. The evening will be accompanied by Jordan Williams on piano.

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Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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