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In 1951, composer Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007) wrote the
first opera expressly for broadcast television, “Amahl and the
Night Visitors.” In an effort to follow that success, NBC
Television commissioned “Griffelkin” from composer
Lukas Foss (1922-2009). The delightful result is a work
written in a rather Neo-Classical/Baroque idiom. By this time,
Foss was a highly accomplished composer, as well as a
conductor and pianist. His considerable skills are clearly
evident in “Griffelkin.”

This fairytale is based upon one that Foss heard as a child:
Due to the fact that he has not been “bad enough” while in
Hell, a little devil named Griffelkin has been “banished” to
Earth, along with other devils-in-training. While there,
instead of performing one bad deed per day, Griffelkin
learns about “good” things, such as love, beauty, and the
joy and pain of being mortal. By the end of the opera,
Griffelkin essentially becomes mortal, thereby providing
it with a happy ending.

This opera is written in a listener-friendly style
“for children of all ages,” that was suitable for broadcast
television in the 1950’s. Its aforementioned
Neo-Classical/Baroque idiom is in some ways reminiscent of
“The Rake’s Progress” by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and
certain works by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963). While still
displaying an interesting and individual compositional voice,
this opera “goes down easy.” Foss was prolific in most
musical mediums throughout his long career. Sometimes,
his styles included serial techniques and occasionally
involved electronic instruments and tape. Works such
as “Griffelkin” are definitely more representative of his
“populist” compositional approach.

This is an important premiere recording that was produced
in the style of a concert, instead of a live performance. Under
the leadership of Maestro Gil Rose, both the joint choral
forces from the Boston area and the Boston Modern Orchestra
Project acquitted themselves quite well. The ensemble cast of
15 singers were nearly ideal for this type of opera; however,
contralto Marion Dry sounded a bit “covered” for my taste.
Soprano Kendra Colton sang the “trouser role” of Griffelkin
with a true sense of identification with the character.

The recorded sound was true, with a nice balance between
the voices and instruments. “Griffelkin” was a side of Lukas
Foss that I’d never heard before, as I had previously only
listened to his more “severe” music. I’m glad that I heard
this recording and recommend it highly.