Notes and Editorial Reviews
Enfant terribles have a remarkable habit of becoming beloved elders, although it is still somewhat shocking to imagine that the ever-youthful Lukas Foss (b. 1922) is now over eighty. Griffelkin, to a libretto by Alastair Reid, is the only full-length opera of his three (I previously reviewed the tiny Introductions and Goodbyes—I am completely unfamiliar with The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County). Following the success of Menotti’s Ahmal and the Night Visitors, the opera was premiered on NBC in 1955, and received its first theatrical staging in 1956 at Tanglewood. Apparently, in the discussions surrounding the celebrations of his eightieth birthday, Griffelkin was the work he most wished to have recorded, and Chandos has done the composer
The opera tells the story of the young demon, Griffelkin, who, on his tenth birthday, is allowed to spend the day on earth, where he is supposed to cause constant mischief. He is given a bottle of a magic liquid with which to accomplish this and he does manage, among other things, to bring a letterbox, a statue, and a pair of stone lions to life, causing considerable consternation in the process. He also meets up with the boy and girl, whose mother is desperately ill. He uses the last of his magic liquid to save her, whereupon he is summoned back to hell to stand trial for his crimes. His punishment is to be condemned to become a real boy, to live among the humans that he was supposed to plague.
Griffelkin is an unmitigated delight. Having finally heard it (it premiered when I was three, so I can be forgiven for not remembering the original broadcast), I am mildly shocked that it has taken this long for a work so joyously, even profligately alive to reach recording. Foss was a student at the first composition class at Tanglewood, where one of his fellow students was Leonard Bernstein. Griffelkin is roughly contemporary with the latter’s Candide and the idioms have a great deal in common. Naturally, given the subject matter, Foss’s work has none of the world-weary cynicism of Bernstein’s and has, in fact, a much stronger libretto. Also, unlike Candide, the work is through composed. I have not the slightest hesitation in stating that this “opera for children of all ages” is one of the most utterly delightful works I have ever heard. Foss said, after the performance that preceded the present recording, that he was inspired to write another children’s opera. Whether he ever does is perhaps moot, since he has already written a work that stands with Janá?ek’s The Cunning Little Vixen or Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortileges as a work that takes the magic world of children’s stories and makes a masterpiece for all ages. It should be in the repertoire of opera houses worldwide. That it is not regularly performed in the opera houses of the English-speaking world is nothing short of a scandal, one that I hope this marvelous recording will do much to change.
The cast is, for the most part, superb. The diction is so clear that the need for the printed libretto is minimal, and everything is sung and characterized with enormous conviction. The various choral forces are terrific, as is the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. The recorded sound is more than up to the house standard at Chandos. The only weakness, which is quite minor, both dramatically and musically (and which may be in fact specified by the score) is the decision to cast all the little devils, with the exception of Griffelkin, as children, the anonymous members of the Boston Children’s Opera. Griffelkin is, of course, sung by an adult soprano; the contrast between the actual children and the “youngest devil in hell” is more than a little disconcerting.
Texts and translations, and very fine notes. This is an obligatory purchase for children of all ages.
-- John Story, FANFARE Read less
Works on This Recording
Griffelkin by Lukas Foss
Lynn Torgove (Mezzo Soprano),
Kendra Colton (Soprano),
David M. Cushing (Bass),
Drew Poling (Baritone),
Marion Dry (Alto),
Emily Browder (Soprano),
Janna Baty (Soprano),
Misa Ann Iwama (Mezzo Soprano),
Aaron Engebreth (Baritone),
Anne Harley (Soprano),
Anne Carolyn Bird (Soprano),
Glorivy Arroyo (Mezzo Soprano),
Yeghishe Manucharyan (Tenor),
Elizabeth Keusch (Soprano)
Back Bay Chorale,
Boston Modern Orchestra Project,
Boston Children's Opera members
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1955; USA
Date of Recording: 04/2002
Venue: Mechanichs Hall, Worchester, MA
Length: 102 Minutes 35 Secs.
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