Lukas Foss' Griffelkin
(pronounced 'Grifflekin') rides on the back of the success of
Menotti's television opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors
(1951). It is in fact an NBC commission. Griffelkin is a
little devil (literally) who has a chance to visit the earthly
plane on his tenth birthday, there to learn of beauty, death
and love. Foss first heard the story from his mother and initially
attempted to set it when he was eleven years old.
there are references, as Steven Ledbetter's excellent booklet
notes point out, to the Stravinsky of The Rake's Progress,
and indeed to Copland, this is very much Foss's show. Foss characterises
his players individually. Locations of course get the same treatment,
with spookier, darker sonorities for Hell, brighter for Earth.
But actually the most magical part of this set is Foss's ear.
His use of his orchestra, which sounds quite limited in size,
is there right from the beginning when the Grandmother takes
the devilish equivalent of a Morning Assembly, calling the imps
to 'scowl when I call your name'. She is sung by the fine contralto
Marion Day - little-of-wobble and excellent-of-pitch in the
disjunct intervallic leaps.
is not all just sweet. If it were the opera would stand no chance
of longevity at all. It is all, if you'll pardon the
pun, devilishly clever. There is a light compositional touch
that runs through the whole opera, expertly realised by the
Boston Modern Orchestra Project under the baton of Gil Rose.
Try the light, piano-dominated dance in Act 1 (also titled 'Prologue'),
CD1 Track 4.
Stravinsky of The Soldier's Tale is very evident in Act
2. Griffelkin has been sent to the World for the day. He is
in a town square (any town, any country) and meets the talking
Statue (Elizabeth Keusch), the chattering letterbox (the clean-voiced
Yeghische Manucharyan) and the two lions (who sing in unison).
ill Mother is Janna Baty, who sounds sad, aware of her own mortality,
yet who negotiates the tricky part with complete confidence.
But it is Griffelkin that dominates. Try the sequence tracks
16-18 where the shadow of Copland looms large. This is involving
stuff, and Griffelkin is completely within her part. Kendra
Colton's clear soprano gets the role perfectly. There is a happy
ending. Because of his good deed at bringing the Mother back
to life, he is banished from Hell and has to live as a mortal.
He is taken in by the Mother's children.
Engebreth is the appropriately authoritative Policeman. In fact
all of the smaller parts are taken to perfection. It is evident
that real care has gone into the casting, while the recording
is simply superb: Producer Blanton Alspaugh; Engineer John Newton.
A life-enhancing project.
see also Review
by Paul Shoemaker