So, one opera lover asks the other, “What do you think of Menotti?” and the response is given, “If you’ve heard one, you’ve heard ‘Amahl’.” Indeed, Menotti’s opera written for television and first performed live on Christmas Eve 1951 to millions of viewers has been a holiday staple ever since and has even been staged with the Kennedy children playing shepherds—complete with Caroline sporting a white beard—back in the Camelot era. Although it is common to see this work staged with community groups and in churches with an amateur cast, what distinguishes this fully staged professional performance with all of the trimmings is its extravagant cast, which includes Richie Roesner as Amahl, Amanda Halgrimson as the Mother, Paul Radulescu as the Page and Peter Van De Graaff, Kurt R. Hansen and Patrick Blackwell as the Three Kings and Alan Heatherington conducting his first-class chamber orchestra, Ars Viva. This is one of those truly rare family works that is immediately accessible to children and opera novices and yet still meaningful to the most seasoned opera-goers. (Dennis Polkow) 7:30pm/Fri-Sat, 4pm/Sun 2006. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, (847)673-6300. $10-$60.