Pierce Mansfield: Renaissance Man In The Making
18-year-old Emory University freshman Pierce Mansfield made his Des Moines Metro Opera debut in 2013. Fast forward to 2020, and he isn’t exactly sure what he “wants to be when he grows up” although he’s hopeful that his future will involve either being a film and media business major, professional bass-guitarist, or singer-songwriter. His immediate goal is to organize a college band with several of his music buddies.
He got his start when he auditioned for the title role in the DMMO’s production of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. Then, he was a twelve-year-old sixth-grader at Merrill Middle School in Des Moines.
Mansfield says it changed the kind of person he was for the rest of his life.
“The Des Moines Metro Opera’s Amahl and the Night Visitors was a great experience for me and gave me perspective into a world I knew nothing about.”
Pierce thinks being in Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors really sparked his interest in musical theatre and altered the entire way he met new friends. His closest buddies now appreciate and love the arts, and not just performance-based art, but also modern art and music.
“The DMMO really completely changed the path of my life in high school. It led me to finding my closest friends through the arts and eventually put me down a path in the arts.”
Mansfield scared? Not really!
Like most pre-teens, making his folks happy was the main reason for him to become involved as a boy soprano in the Heartland Youth Choir under the direction of Margaret Stiletto. At that time, he says he wasn’t much into singing, theatre, or opera. Mansfield auditioned on a whim for Amahl because he wanted to please his mom. He didn’t expect to win the title role, and he certainly wasn’t prepared to be a part of the show. He had never done a professional show in his life. While he was a tad bit nervous, he thought, “Hey, I got this far, I should be okay.”
Today, he notes how lucky he was to be taught by the DMMO’s finest. He was personally coached in singing and acting by legendary artistic director emeritus and founder Dr. Robert Larsen. Mansfield also received training assistance from the DMMO’s current general and artistic director Michael Egel and their guest services assistant Dennis Hendrickson. The DMMO triumvirate ran Mansfield through his operatic paces to prepare him for the challenges he would face singing the lead role of Amahl.
Gian Carlo Menotti was a prolific Italian-American mid-century, composer and librettist. While only 11-years-old and a student at the Milan Conservatory, he composed his first opera. Toscanini, one of the world’s greatest 20th-century conductors, recommended that the talented Menotti go to study in Philadelphia at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. Menotti’s music was applauded for his creative use of traditional harmony and operatic form. He was also celebrated for his realism and his powerful libretti. During his lifetime, he established the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and Charleston, SC, and was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor in 1984. Early in his career, he won two Pulitzer Prizes for his chamber operas The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street.
What does Hieronymus Bosch have to do with Amahl and the Night Visitors?
Menotti was originally moved to create his plot for Amahl and the Night Visitors when he saw Hieronymus Bosch’s oil-on-wood painting of the Adoration of the Magi. This late 15th-century tryptic revealed different scenes from the life of Jesus.
Amahl and the Night Visitors was the original work and the first opera to be commissioned and premiered on television by Hallmark. The landmark 1951 Christmas Eve premiere from the NBC Opera Theatre in New York City was the initial work in the Hallmark Hall of Fame series and the first live production of opera on television. The premiere included Menotti speaking prior to the broadcast about his new opera Amahl and the Night Visitors. The NBC production was directed by Kirk Browning and conducted by Thomas Schippers.
Menotti’s plot: Respect, Temptation, Kindness, Miracle!
In his work, Amahl and the Night Visitors, Menotti creates the main character, a disabled young shepherd boy Amahl, who lives in a humble hut with his impoverished mother. Menotti was inspired to add a visit by the three Wise Men as they sought shelter on their journey to Bethlehem to see the newborn Jesus.
In the DMMO production, soprano Julie Makerov sings the role of the mother. Bass-baritone W. Patrick Blackwell, tenor Edwin Griffith, and baritone Todd Thomas appear as the three kings, Balthazaar, Kaspar, and Melchoir. The 2013 Simpson College Madrigal Singers perform as the opera chorus. David Neely conducted and the stage director was Dr. Robert Larsen.
The Des Moines Metro Opera’s 2013 production of Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors starring Pierce Mansfield, will be broadcast Thursday afternoon, December 24 at 3 p.m. on your favorite device at iowapublicradio.org or your preferred IPR Classical station.