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Holiday family musical with chamber orchestra or piano four-hands accompaniment. Music by Daniel Kallman. Book and Lyrics by Christine Kallman. Run time: 1 hour 40 minutes
The story of Donata’s Gift draws its inspiration from the Italian legend of Old Befana, the folk tale benefactress who showers Italian children with gifts at Epiphany. This work can be enjoyed by the entire family. Cast requirements are: two adult leads, four child leads, several lesser roles, adult chorus, and children’s chorus. Synopsis below. Two songs from the musical are available separately: Donata’s Lament and Lullaby, and Our World Needs This Child (both for soprano solo).
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Composer/Author Notes and Synopsis
Donata’s Gift was premiered at the Northfield (MN) Arts Guild Theater in December of 1998, and performed there again in 2009. The 1998 production was supported in part through a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council.
Book and Lyrics by Christine Kallman
Musical Score by Daniel Kallman
Donata’s Gift, a musical for the holiday season, draws its inspiration from the Italian legend of Old Befana, the folk tale benefactress who showers Italian children with gifts at Epiphany.
This is not a straight retelling of the Befana legend. In this original story, Donata is a lonely and bitter old woman in a small sixteenth century Italian village. Although it is the Christmas season, the villagers are foolish and bickering, and Donata, who is merely eccentric, is whispered to be a witch. Then, due to a mistake by the bumbling and forgetful Sister Roma, Donata is openly accused of stealing the altar candlesticks from the cathedral. Signor Alfredo, the scheming but gullible master of the orphanage who would like to impress the Constable in order to get a better job, sets out with his bullying sons, Antonio and Lino, to prove Donata guilty.
But Alfredo and the town are turned upside down by the arrival of two new orphans, Lucia and her little brother Niccolo. Despite the poor circumstances of the orphans and Antonio’s threats, Lucia is not afraid to raise the hopes of the orphans that Old Befana will come with gifts and leads them in celebrating the Christmas season right under Signor Alfredo’s nose. Nor is Lucia shy in pestering Donata to assure them that Old Befana will bring gifts to the children, although the girl’s hopes are dashed when she also becomes a suspect in the theft. In a dream scene, the Magi visit Donata just as they visited Old Befana in the legend. Their presence calls her to put aside bitterness and spread the gifts she has, just as Old Befana brought gifts to the Christ Child. Donata is afraid, but finally becomes convinced, in the song “Our World Needs This Child.” On the morning of Epiphany, the orphans find that Old Befana has brought them all gifts. Donata and Lucia are exonerated, and even Signor Alfredo cannot remain unmoved as the story closes.
Humor permeates the play, from Donata’s clever outwitting of Alfredo by pretending to call back his dead grandmother, to Sister Roma’s fainting spells, to Alfredo’s self-important reflection on fatherhood in “Advice Song”. Other songs emphasize the play at appearances: the villagers’ pretense of getting along (“Peaceful Life”), Niccolo’s ludicrous show of power (“You Look Out”), and Donata’s icy exterior which masks her longing (“Donata’s Lullaby”). But hope predominates, in the orphan’s joyous invocation of Befana (“Hurry, Hurry”) and the villagers’ attempts at a new start (“Something Good Will Happen”).