Astar almost blinding in intensity catches the attention of a crippled shepherd boy, who urges his mother to leave their dismal hut to view the gleaming light. With that theme, Gian Carlo Menotti spun an opera -- both music and libretto -- that has won a permanent place as family fare in the Christmas music season. "Amahl and the Night Visitors" is a partly autobiographical tale based on Menotti's personal miracle -- unexpected recovery from lameness in his youth. On Saturday, Bel Cantanti Opera presented the 1951 one-act at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Mount Pleasant.

Formed in 2003, Bel Cantanti has remarkably accomplished young soloists. For Amahl, Menotti specified a boy soprano, but Jennifer Weingartner's clear, focused voice filled the bill nicely. As his mother, soprano Kathleen Sasnett has Wagnerian depth gilded with a mezzo-ish tint. Issachah Savage, VaShawn McIlwain and Daryl Ott made up the trio of kings, combining regal bearing with strength to match. Page Rick Latterell gave luster to his role.

Everyone's acting was impressive. And Bel Cantanti devises clever and detailed staging, costuming and sets on a shoestring budget. As usual, director Katerina Souvorova provided superlative piano accompaniment of orchestral dimensions.

There were a few rough spots. If the awkward dancing was meant to be spontaneous, it wasn't obvious. And the unaccompanied chorus of shepherds and villagers needed instrumental support -- a recorder, perhaps -- for intonation problems.

The performance repeats at various locations in the District, Maryland and Virginia: Dec. 16, 17, 18, 23; and Jan. 6 and 7 (

-- Cecelia Porter