This performance and
recording had their inception in eightieth
birthday celebrations for the composer
at the Tanglewood festival in 2002;
in July of that same year the performances
moved to New York City.
If you think Menotti’s
"Amahl and the Night Visitors"
wasn’t long enough, this opera is for
you. After the success of that first
‘opera for television’ commissioned
and broadcast by the U.S. National Broadcasting
Company, the network wanted a follow-up
and they commissioned this work from
Lukas Foss. The plot line is authentic,
one told to the young Foss by his mother
in Germany, but even if it were perfectly
presented with excellent visuals, I
doubt if many modern children could
follow the story, especially for an
hour and 40 minutes. The texture is
interesting and adults may find themselves
enjoying the music even without knowing
or caring about the story, there being
no danger of this with Amahl.
The singers are all
very capable, the young ones especially
good at projecting the words of the
story, which involves a small devil
who is given a free day of mischief
on Earth as a reward for being particularly
nasty, and who is reformed by the good
children he has dealings with.
Because this is officially
an entertainment and not "serious
music," explicit quotations from,
say, Turandot are not to be complained
about. If Tan Dun can get away with
it, certainly Lukas Foss can.
Sorry to be such a
bad sport, but I find it unconscionable
that so much talent is wasted on a piece
of amiable fluff as this work when really
worthwhile English language operas remain
unperformed and unrecorded—to mention
only two: Chadwick’s "The Padrone"
and Tovey’s "Bride of Dionysus."
Even Menotti’s "Maria Golovin"
or "The Old Maid and the Thief"
would have been a better use of resources.
It would be nice if the money and the
talent had some sense of proportion,
and I suspect Foss would be the first
person to agree with me, even though
he is the only real live composer I’ve
ever actually had a face to face argument
Foss is perfectly capable
of writing truly great music. If you
don’t already know it, most certainly
check out his Song of Songs (1947)
with Jenny Tourel, mezzo-soprano, and
Leonard Bernstein conducting the New
York Philharmonic Orchestra on SONY
SMK 63164. You’ll be very glad