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Local boy takes centre stage

One-act opera provides chance to lead for St. Albert Grade 4 student Justin Wong

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Dec 18, 2013 06:00 am

BEING AMAHL – St. Albert's Justin Wong, 9, rehearses with Ron Long in preparation for their performance of the one-act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.
BEING AMAHL – St. Albert's Justin Wong, 9, rehearses with Ron Long in preparation for their performance of the one-act opera Amahl and the Night Visitors.
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Amahl and the Night Visitors
Edmonton's CoOPERAtive
Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. and Saturday Dec. 21 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Holy Trinity Anglican Church
10037 - 84 Ave.
Tickets: $15/adults; $5/children under 14.
Call 780-420-1757 or purchase online at

There is something so utterly charming and mischievous about Justin Wong, 9. Perhaps it’s the twinkle in his eye or the energy in his voice or how honestly he articulates his thoughts.

At any rate, he appears perfectly cast in the cheeky lead role of Amahl and the Night Visitors, running this Friday and Saturday at Holy Trinity Anglican Church.

“I’ve always wanted a lead role even though it’s very hard,” says Wong, a Grade 4 student at Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School.

Amahl and the Night Visitors is a one-act opera by Gian Carlo Menotti that is similar to a medieval mystery play, except that the story is not biblical but an invented fable.

Set near Bethlehem, three strangers on a long journey stop by the house of a lame shepherd boy turned beggar and his mother. They are the three kings on their way to pay homage to the Christ child. During their brief stop, the theft of a coin and Amahl’s selfless act are pivotal in creating a life-changing miracle.

“What I like about Amahl is that he’s a good character and at the end gives a gift to Jesus and thinks of others,” says Wong, a boy soprano and young thespian in St. Albert Children’s Theatre’s stable of actors. He was last seen as the Jester in Shrek, the Musical.

One of his big challenges was learning how to walk with a limp.

“My mom would teach me to bend the good leg and keep the weak leg straight so it can’t move.”

Now in its third year, Amahl and the Night Visitors is a production of Edmonton’s CoOPERAtive, an organization that creates performances for local opera singers.

With a shoestring budget, the company only mounts one production per year and is hoping to build Amahl’s story into a local Christmas tradition.

“This is a story that plays well to families and it’s so warm-hearted. And the character of Amahl is one we can identify with,” says founder Ron Long. The Edmonton Opera tenor also plays King Casper in the production.

Wong was tapped for the role of Amahl, replacing actor Jeffrey Swanson, 14, after his voice changed and deepened, Long said. Wong is a singing student of Clint Hagel (King Melchior) and was tutored for the role during lessons.

“He’s (Wong) got a very special quality. He’s very open, inquisitive and eager to learn. And he’s making a wonderful Amahl. He takes it very seriously and he’s quite a joy to watch. He’s a little firecracker. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks.”

The 45-minute opera, although short, has a running theme that is still relevant today, Long comments.

“It talks about poverty. It has a universal message of generosity and giving and to the everyday miracles that happen from giving. There’s also forgiveness. The kings forgive the mother for the theft, and it’s that time of year when we think of generosity, giving and forgiveness. And it’s good to be reminded of these things.”

Long also adds that since the opera is set in a church sanctuary with a high-coffered wood ceiling, the voices will resonate and bounce off walls, adding a lovely quality to the music.

“It’s an innocent sacred space and it gives off that quality. For me it’s a heart-warming feeling to hear the voices ring out.”

Donations will be accepted for the Steadward Centre’s Free2BMe, a program that encourages kids, teens and adults with a physical disability to improve their lifestyle and physical fitness level.


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