Enter the Wise Men...
The scene is an elementary school music class, and the students are being introduced to certain Western European forms of classical music. Having just watched The Nutcracker before the holiday school break for an introduction to ballet, back to school after the new year, it is now time for opera. The teacher pulls out a video-tape and an old VCR. The students fidget and mumble. They do not know much about opera, but the last video was all music and dancing. Will this one be similarly dull? Some of the children liked the ballet, but are worried about saying that opinion too loudly for fear of being teased. The teacher encourages everyone to sit on the floor, closer to the screen, turns out the lights, and presses Play.
The screen lights up, but only dimly; tracking lines quaver the bottom of the screen, the speakers pop and hiss as if played from a record player, another novel experience this class had before the break. It all seems old, unexciting. The music starts: long, sleepy notes played on string instruments, the camera sweeping over the Jerusalem countryside, the sound of sheep bleating as fancy text appears on the screen. A boy appears, badly playing a pipe, a woman starts singing to bring her child in to come to bed, they argue and sing for a ten long minutes. By this point, most of the students are either blankly staring at the screen, looking down at their hands in their laps, or have fallen asleep outright.
Into this scene, the magi, with weird ominous chords, make their arrival. They are unexpected, and a little other-worldly. They are late and a bit clueless. How strange they seem, following a star? The magi arrive with baggage and entourage, they are clearly people of importance; but what do we do with these strange visitors from afar? In the opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, the widow and her son bring in the other shepherds to help entertain and feed these three odd beings. Are we too tired from celebrating the birth of Jesus to see the wise men have arrived?