The Star-Ledger

Singing visitors coming to stage a Christmas-tradition revival

by Sharon Sheridan,
Thursday, December 9, 1999

Tom Pedas of Roselle remembers when the holiday season was incomplete without the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

“It used to be done every year, just before Christmas,” he said. As a kid, he always watched the 1951 black-and-white television version. “I remember growing up, and that was an annual tradition, waiting to see ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors,’ ” he said. “It's just a shame that today's young people don't have the opportunity.”

This year, Pedas said, he knows of only two productions of “Amahl” in New Jersey. And he's responsible for one of them. The Celebration Singers and Celebration Singers Children's Choir, which he conducts, will perform the short opera as the first half of their annual holiday concert tomorrow and Saturday at the Cranford United Methodist Church, Lincoln and Walnut avenues.

Pedas double-cast the leading role, with Jarrod Schlenker of Cranford playing Amahl tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 3 p.m., and Paul Sadowski of Colonia playing the lead role in the final show at 8 p.m. Saturday.

In addition to giving two boys the chance to play Amahl, the double casting also is a precaution in case one of them cannot sing the role. “Boys at that age level, their voices are so unpredictable,” explained Pedas, who teaches in the Cranford public schools. “I teach middle school age right now, and their voices change day to day, practically.”

Pedas, who formerly taught in Linden, has instructed elementary through high school students through the years. Many of his former students have since joined the Celebration Singers. That includes two of the Wise Men in “Amahl” —Nuno DeSousa of Linden and Khy Garner of Roselle — and the page, Eddie Egan of Cranford. Other cast members include Manny Gonzales of Scotch Plains as the third Wise Man, Deboray Eberts of Westfield as Amahl's mother, and members of the adult Celebration Singers as the sherherds' chorus.

“The show is about a boy, and he's crippled, and he's always kind of been sheltered from everything because he's poor and he can't walk,” related Jarrod, 12. “And these three kings —the Three Wise Men going to see Jesus — stop at their house, and they're bringing gifts to Jesus. And when they're there, a miracle happens. But I don't really want to tell you the end, ’cause it's a surprise. ”

He and Paul, who take turns rehearsing with the rest of the cast, each approach the role differently, Jarrod said. “We both kind of use each other's ideas. So if Paul does something that I like, them I may try to use that and see how it fits in with what I'm doing, or vice versa. ”

According to Paul, who turns 11 in January, “It's a very intesesting opera. It's very dramatic. There's a lot of things going on, and the mood changes very easily.”

“Sometimes, the music is…really, like, calm and peaceful,” he said. “And then, all of a sudden, a rush of anger or sadness comes in that changes the whole entire scene. ”

Because it's an opera, Jarrod explained, he and Paul sing all of their lines as well as several songs. The songs “don't all really have names,” he said. But his favorite is one he calls “The Shepherd,” in which Amahl talks about being a shepherd and how his goat died and his mother had to sell the sheep.

Paul, a fifth-grader, noted that opera is “totally different from a play…because you have to sing and act at the same time. I'm used to it because I used to sing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York.”

He performed in the German opera “Wozzeck” and in “Susannah” with Renee Flemming and Samuel Ramey as part of the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus. He also sings at his school and church and plans to try out for all-state chorus.

The operas at the Met each included murders. “Most operas, it's about killing,”commented Paul. But “Amahl” is different.

“The only thing that happens is that his goat's dead,” Paul said. “But no one dies in it.”

Jarrod, a sixth grader, sang two solos in the 1999 elementary all-state chorus and sings in his school choir. He is a junior member of the Cranford Dramatic Club, where he played a member of the Munchkins’ Lollipop Guild in “Wizard of Oz” and the Artful Dodger in “Oliver.”

“It's fun to act and be on stage,” Jarrod said. “A lot of people, I think, get nervous on stage…When I first start, I get a little nervous. But then, after awhile, it just becomes fun.”

“I like opera because I like to act, but I also like to sing, so it has both of them combined in one,“ he concluded.

This production offers “a great way to expose people of all ages to opera,” Pedas added. “It's only about an hour long. It's in English. It's a very touching story. ”

He noted, “It's been something I've been wanting to do for a number of years.”

Following the opera, the second half of the concert will feature selections performed by the Children's Choir, the Celebration Singers and the two groups combined.

Tom Pedas, The Celebration Singers and Children's Chorus


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