Opera returns to Trenton roots with Christmas performance
“We are coming full circle.”
That is how Joseph R. Pucciatti describes his endeavor of bringing opera back to Trenton after a nearly 10-year absence.
Pucciatti, who grew up in St. Joachim Parish and school before it became a part of Our Lady of the Angels Parish, is the co-founder of the Trenton-based Boheme Opera NJ, which has its early roots in the city’s Chambersburg section. The opera company will be performing “Amahl and the Night Visitors” Dec. 7 in the sanctuary of the Gothic-style Immaculate Conception Church, also now part of Our Lady of the Angels Parish.
Pucciatti’s love of the musical genre blossomed during his undergraduate days at The College of New Jersey, Ewing, where he met his wife, Sandra. The couple formed a group that performed monthly parlor concerts in the early ’80s, and in 1982, the group was asked to perform during Trenton’s annual Feast of Lights Italian festival by St. Joachim then-pastor, Father James J. Sauchelli.
“The procession for Our Lady of Casandrino started at St. Joachim,” Pucciatti recalled, “and went through the streets of Trenton. Our first production was ‘I, Pagliacci’ in the schoolyard. We set up about 50 chairs, but over 1,500 people came.”
The musical group transformed into Boheme Opera NJ, a company that stages two full productions per year complete with a 32-piece orchestra, about two dozen cast members and a core cast of about eight singers. It has earned multiple Citations of Excellence from the New Jersey State Council of the Arts.
“We want to bring opera into the city for a new generation who has never seen it in person,” Pucciatti explains.
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” was the first opera composed for television in the United States, and aired Christmas Eve, 1951,” he said. “This is a good way to learn about opera, for it has a simple story, and is in English. It’s only about 45 minutes long, so it’s great for kids and families.”
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” is set in Bethlehem in the first century after the Birth of Christ. Amahl, a young boy, lives with his mother and is destined for a life of begging until three kings on their way to visit the newborn Jesus knock on their door and ask to spend the night. An attempted theft of the kings’ riches, a fight, and a wish for healing add to the exciting and emotional conclusion.
Immaculate Conception Church will play a silent yet beautiful character in the evening, for “the church is historically a great center for the soul, for culture and art,” Pucciatti said. The opera will be followed by a performance of Vivaldi’s “Gloria” with a chorus and 16-piece chamber orchestra.
Pucciatti still has roots in the Trenton area; he is in his 42nd year of teaching music in the Trenton school system, and serves as occasional music director for the Our Lady of the Angels Parish choir.
Urging residents of the area to try opera, Pucciatti said, “’Amahl’ is a wonderful opera, a miracle play that evolves around Christmas.”