JONATHAN, a young shepherd boy Soprano BENJAMIN, Jonathan's older brother (early twenties), also a shepherd Tenor JACOB, another shepherd Baritone NATHAN, the oldest shepherd Bass-Baritone THE LITTLE ANGEL (about the same size and age as Jonathan) Soprano ROMAN SOLDIER Baritone SLAVE GIRL (young adult) Mezzo-Soprano TWO SLAVE CHILDREN (boy and girl) Silent Roles THE ANGEL GABRIEL Speaking Role INVISIBLE ANGEL CHORUS S.S.A.A.Instrumentation (Available on Rental)
FULL: Flute (doubling Piccolo) 2 Oboes (2nd doubles E.H.) 2 Bb Clarinets Bassoon 2 Horns in F Trumpet Timpani Percussion Harp Celeste Strings REDUCED: Piano Fl ute Harp Organ ad lib Celeste Timpani PercussionDuration one hour, no intermission
The action takes place at the time of Christ's birth, around midnight, in a rocky pasturage outside Bethlehem.
Three shepherds, Jacob, Benjamin and Jonathan, sleep by a campfire while a fourth, Nathan, stands guard, silhouetted against the starry sky. Young Jonathan is awakened by a fragment of distant angelic music. Excited, he arouses his older brother, Benjamin, who scolds him for his nonsense and for being a lazy daydreamer who does nothing all day but play on his squeaky little flute. After Benjamin has settled back to sleep, Jonathan sneaks off in search of the source of the lovely music.
The chill air draws the three older shepherds to the campfire. Benjamin scoffs as Jacob and Nathan discuss the strange beauty of the night, and he complains bitterly of their dull, lonely life. He pictures the gaiety around the campfire of a caravan camped across the valley, but Jacob tells him he saw only slaves in the caravan, herded along like beasts. Disillusioned, Benjamin calls Jonathan to fetch more wood and is disgusted to find him gone. His angry tirade is interrupted by the appearance in the heavens of the angel Gabriel*whose announcement of the Christ Child's birth is followed by the singing of the invisible angelic choir. Benjamin is eager to leave at once, anticipating feasting and celebrating in town, and when Jonathan appears carrying a stray lamb, Benjamin punishes him by making him stay with the flocks while he, Jacob and Nathan go to Bethlehem. Heartbroken at having missed the heavenly music, Jonathan pleads to go along, but Benjamin is adamant and Jonathan is left alone by the fire, half asleep, the lamb in his arms.
Strange things begin to happen. A little angel appears uttering plaintive cries and limping slowly. His halo is lopsided, one of his wings is broken and apparently he has just stubbed his big toe! Jonathan, amazed, plies the angel with questions and learns that he is one of the cherubim, part of the heavenly host singing the music Jonathan had heard earlier. On the way to Bethlehem to see the Christ Child he broke his wing playing a game of heavenly hide n'seek and fell to earth. After a humorous discourse on the delights of life in Heaven, the angel becomes interested in Jonathan's flute. Jonathan plays for him and the angel offers to trade his golden halo for the flute, but Jonathan cannot bear to part with it.
But he does manage to mend the broken wing. Overjoyed, the angel is about to leave when he suddenly remembers to his dismay that his gift for the Christ Child was lost when he fell to earth. Jonathan generously gives up his flute as a gift, and the angel gratefully offers to take him along to Bethlehem. Jonathan, joyously eager at first, remembers Benjamin's order to guard the sheep and, bitterly disappointed, declares he cannot go. He begs the angel to try to bring back the Heavenly Choir so he can hear their beautiful music, but the little angel is douWul and finally leaves quietly, taking Jonathan's flute but forgetting his golden halo. Jonathan puts it in his pouch, intending it as a gift for Benjamin.
At that moment, a young girl in ragged dress comes running toward Jonathan followed by two small children whose hands are bound by chains. They have escaped from the slave caravan and are being pursued by Roman soldiers. At the girl's frantic appeal for help, Jonathan quickly points to a path leading to the house of a merchant friend who wili help them in their flight. He gives them food and, after a moment's hesitation, the golden halo to use as ransom. He removes the chains and hurries the slaves out of sight. An angry soldier appears. He sees the chains and at Jonathan's refusal to reveal the slaves' hiding place, raises his sword to slay him. Instantly thunder and lightning dramatically reveal the little angel in the heavens. He warns the soldier he will strike him blind if he does not release Jonathan and leave at once. Stunned, the soldier runs off, and as the angel disappears, Benjamin and the other two shepherds rush up, fearful for the boy's life because of the soldiers. Jonathan reassures the three shepherds who then in awe and wonder describe the scene at the manger, telling him that there was no great celebration and there were only simple gifts, even a flute like Jonathan's. Overjoyed, the boy realizes the little angel did arrive in time to present their gift and see the Christ Child.
As dawn approaches, the three older shepherds leave forthe pasture. Jonathan, carrying his lamb, takes a last wistful look at the heavens. Suddenly, he hears the swelling music of the angelic choir; the heavens begin to glow, revealing the figure of the little angel waving gaily at Jonathan. Jonathan cries out, "O thank you, angel!" and waves back to him as the "Gloria in Excelsis Deo" rises to a climax.
PRESS COMMENT . .
'. . . Mary Elizabeth Caldwell's opera 'The Night of the Star' has a Christmas message which appeals to young and old alike.
. . . ingratiating melodies and Iyrics that shift easily from the serious and dramatic to the whimsical and lighthearted. This is her third original opera and one that deserves to be repeated again and again."
PASADENA STAR NEWS, Dec. 6, 1965