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Lukas FOSS (b. 1922)
Griffelkin (1960) [31.03]
23+ Soloists, Back Bay Chorale, Boston Children’s Opera
Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
Recorded at Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, 2 April 2002
Notes in English, Deutsch, and Français. Photos of conductor.
CHANDOS CHAN 10067 [31.03 + 62.35]

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 with.

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 you did.

Paul Shoemaker

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