‘Winter Wonder’ to wow at PAC

“Winter Wonder,” a joint production of the Newport Symphony Orchestra and Porthole Players Ltd., will be performed at the Newport Performing Arts Center on Dec. 8 and 9. Pictured are: Gary Herd, back-left, Peter Theodore and Brian Haggerty; Gidget Manucci Ashley, front-left, and Braylon Belloni. (Courtesy photo)

Newport Symphony and Porthole Players collaborate on holiday show

The Newport Symphony Orchestra and Porthole Players Ltd. have come together to bring a show filled with exactly what the title promises: “Winter Wonder.”

There are two stories on the bill for the show. First will be a reading of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” by 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, and following that will be the collaborative opera performance of “Amahl and the Night Visitors.”

The opera was the first one ever written for national television, and it was one of the first live broadcasts America saw: first performed on Christmas Eve 1951, just three months after the first ever live television broadcast in America.

The story follows the tale of the widow Amahl and her son, who are visited by the three wise men on their journey to Bethlehem.

“It’s a beautifully written story … I think it will be very uplifting,” said director Bonnie Ross. “We’re (opening) the first weekend in December, so we’re sort of preparatory for the Christmas season, which is all about the issues that this opera presents in such a musically beautiful way. I still get goose bumps, it still brings me tears. There are some moments in the music that are really moving, and I take a lot of pride in facilitating work.”

Besides its beautiful history, the story holds a special place in the heart of the show’s producer, Porthole Players director Rhodd Caldwell, who has performed it six times in various roles. In this production of the opera, he won’t be performing, but he is still in several different roles behind the scenes.

“We’ve each taken on different aspects of the show,” explained Caldwell. “My job, initially, was vocal coach and music director … I’ve done a lot of work the chorus and the individual singers — one-one-one vocal coaching — and then Bonnie has been helping me bring out the dramatic parts of that.”

Caldwell will also be reading the Thomas piece at the start of the evening. In addition, it was Caldwell who brought the idea to both Porthole and the orchestra — and started the two-year planning process to get it on stage. After all the planning and rehearsals, Caldwell and John Lavrakas, Newport Symphony Orchestra’s executive director, say they hope to continue collaborations like this in the future, though what that will look like is still up in the air.

Part of the reason the symphony agreed to get involved with the project was to do something different during the only month it doesn’t have full orchestra concerts.

“December is sort of our chance to do something different,” said Lavrakas. “And so when Rhodd approached us, it was great entry point to have something like this.”

However, the collaborative aspect of show isn’t the only variation from the norm for the symphony. Rather than the full symphony performing, only four musicians will be playing that weekend — two on piano and two on oboe.

Another deviation from the usual proceedings of the Newport Symphony: Brad Capshaw, who usually serves as the orchestra’s second trumpet player and stage technical manager, will be conducting. He has experience directing music for various organizations, as well as being an elementary school music teacher, so Capshaw feels ready for the role.

“Rhodd has done an absolute fantastic job in teaching the vocals,” said Capshaw. “But it’s my job now to coalesce the vocals along with the pianos and the oboes coming in and get this all to gel together.”

There will be only two performances of this unique show — Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 9, at 2 p.m. — so tickets should be purchased soon. Prices for adults are $25 for standard seating and $39 for preferred seating, plus fees. All student and child tickets are $10.

The family special gives parents tickets 50 percent off when they purchase tickets for children. There is also a group rate for the Sunday performance only: tickets for groups of six or more will receive a 50 percent off discount. Discounts do not apply to tickets purchased online.

Tickets are available online at www.coastarts.org, at the PAC box office at 777 W Olive St. or by phone at 541-265-2787.