by SOPHIE KERMAN
Griffelkin might be a children’s opera, but the performers – a group of over 70 children in graders 4-12 – aren’t playing around. In a limited run at the Lab Theater, the opera is already nearly sold out, and for good reason. This isn’t your average high school musical: these kids have dedicated every Saturday since October to creating a professional-quality opera, and the result is guaranteed to impress – not just because they’re kids doing opera, but because they’re kids doing opera really well.
Based on a Grimm fairytale, Griffelkin follows a 10-year-old devil as he is sent up to the world to make some mischief – and discovers he might not be so well suited to devilry at all. At its heart, this is a simple tale of what it means to grow up, leave the nursery, and find out who you are, but the story is full of so many fantastical creatures and events that it does not feel like a cliche. From a talking mailbox, to a pair of cranky stone lions, to a troupe of dancing toys, the colorful cast of characters makes for a varied and interesting viewing experience, allowing room for some extremely creative blocking (Daniel Ellis) and costuming (Beth Sanders) decisions.
Because of the difficulty of the music and the age and number of performers, the opera is being presented with two casts of leads. I only saw one set, but I can say that Griffelkin is the most adorable 10-year-old devil you could dream up, and nearly all of the lead performers will startle you with their adult-sounding vocal abilities. And while Lukas Foss‘s music is easy to listen to, it certainly doesn’t seem easy to sing. There is some serious musical and theatrical ability represented here.
One of the most interesting parts of Griffelkin is the range of ages and levels of experience present in the cast. The ensemble (though all very talented) represents a variety of backgrounds, from first-time Project Opera participants to many-season veterans of the program. For the audience, this provides a neat glimpse into the process of becoming a professional musician. Sometimes you drop a line, sometimes you miss a note, and sometimes you aren’t quite comfortable in your own skin as a performer – but learning how to cover for mistakes is part of developing an artistic identity. It is a rare treat to be able to see people at all stages of that process, while still enjoying performances that are funny, moving, and precise in both pitch and timing. (Watch all 70+ cast members move through their choreography, and you’ll be just as impressed as I was.)
If you can nab a ticket to Griffelkin this weekend, do it. These are the people who will end up playing on our stages, running our theaters, and supporting our arts organizations as adults. So all of those curmudgeons saying that classical music is dying had better watch out. If their performances this weekend are any indication, the arts are in extremely capable hands.
Griffelkin by Lukas Foss. Sung in English with English captions projected above the stage. At the Lab Theater, 700 North First Street, Minneapolis, MN 55401. Friday, January 10, 7pm; Saturday, January 11, 1pm and 4pm; Sunday, January 12, 1pm. Tickets: $15/Adult and $5/Children under 18. Recommended for ages 8 and above. Call the Minnesota Opera Ticket Office at 612.333.6669, Monday–Friday, 9am–6pm. More information at http://www.mnopera.org/events/griffelkin/.