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Fantastic Mr. Fox

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1998

  • September 8, 1998
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OPERA IN 3 ACTS

Libretto (En) by Donald Sturrock

German version by Frank Wenzel

Based on Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970) by Roald Dahl

 

Commissioned: Roald Dahl Foundation to benefit Roald Dahl’s Marvelous Children’s Charity

Premiere: December 9, 1998; Los Angeles Opera; Peter Ash, conductor; Donald Sturrock, stage direction; Gerald Scarfe, costume design; Gerald Scarfe, stage design

 

 

Duration: 65'-80’

Publisher: Schott Helicon Music Corporation (BMI)

 

[Video: Tobias Picker, Fantastic Mr. Fox; OPERA San Antonio, 2014]

 

Instrumentation:

2(1.afl,2.pic).2(2.ca).2(2.bcl).2(2.cbsn)-4.2.2.1-timp.2perc(glsp, xyl, vib, mar, crash cym, cym (pair), h.h, 2gongs, s.d, low dr, 6toms, b.d, 2tempbl)-hp.pno-str(10.9.6.8.4)

 

See Reduced Versions above for 15 player and 7 player versions

 

Cast of characters

Fantastic Mr. Fox · baritone | Mrs. Fox · mezzo-soprano

Bennie, Lennie, Jennie & Pennie Foxcub · children

Farmer Boggis · bass | Farmer Bunce · tenor

Farmer Bean · bass-baritone | Mavis the Tractor · soprano

Agnes the Digger · mezzo-soprano | Miss Hedgehog · soprano

Badger the Miner · baritone | Burrowing Mole · tenor

Rita the Rat · mezzo-soprano | Porcupine · tenor

Chorus of Trees · Children | Various Geese and Chickens

Premiere performance cast

Fantastic Mr. Fox · Gerald Finley | Mrs. Fox · Suzanna Guzmán

Farmer Boggis · Louis Lebherz | Farmer Bunce · Doug Jones

Farmer Bean · Jamie Offenbach | Mavis the Tractor · Lesley Leighton

Agnes the Digger · Jill Grove | Miss Hedgehog · Sari Gruber

Badger the Miner · Malcolm MacKenzie | Burrowing Mole · Jorge Garza

Rita the Rat · Josepha Gayer | Porcupine · Charles Castronovo

 

Instrumentation:

2(1.afl,2.pic).2(2.ca).2(2.bcl).2(2.cbsn)-4.2.2.1-timp.2perc(glsp, xyl, vib, mar, crash cym, cym (pair), h.h, 2gongs, s.d, low dr, 6toms, b.d, 2tempbl)-hp.pno-str(10.9.6.8.4)

 

See Reduced Versions above for 15 player and 7 player versions

 

Cast of characters

Fantastic Mr. Fox · baritone | Mrs. Fox · mezzo-soprano

Bennie, Lennie, Jennie & Pennie Foxcub · children

Farmer Boggis · bass | Farmer Bunce · tenor

Farmer Bean · bass-baritone | Mavis the Tractor · soprano

Agnes the Digger · mezzo-soprano | Miss Hedgehog · soprano

Badger the Miner · baritone | Burrowing Mole · tenor

Rita the Rat · mezzo-soprano | Porcupine · tenor

Chorus of Trees · Children | Various Geese and Chickens

• REDUCED ORCHESTRATION VERSION for 15 players (2010)

German version by Frank Wenzel

Arranged by Samuel Bill

Commissioned: Roald Dahl Foundation to benefit Roald Dahl’s Marvelous Children’s Charity

Premiere: February 18, 2011; London, Ashcroft Theatre; Croydon, UK; English Touring Opera; Timothy Carey, conductor; Tim Yealland, stage direction

Instrumentation: 1.(picc.afl)1(bcl)1.1(cbsn)-2.1.0.1-perc-pno.hp-vn.va.vc.cb

Duration: 65'-80’

 

• CHAMBER VERSION FOR 7 PLAYERS (2010)

German version by Frank Wenzel

Arranged by Francesco Cilluffo

Commissioned: James Clutton for Opera Holland Park to benefit Roald Dahl’s Marvelous Children’s Charity, supported by generous donations from the Friends of Opera Holland Park

Premiere: July 26, 2010; London, Yucca Lawn, Holland Park, UK; Tim Murray, conductor; Stephen Barlow, stage direction; Sean Turner, stage design

Orchestration: 0.0.1(bcl).1-0.0.0.0-perc(b.d, tempbl ,cym, s.d, gong, tom-t, xyl, ratchet)-pno-vn.va.vc

Duration: 65'-80’

 

 

tpwtreessmA modern fable, Fantastic Mr. Fox is a story about good vs. evil, animal vs. human, and nature vs. technology. With the help of the other creatures of the forest, Mr. Fox must outwit his enemies to keep his family safe. Mr. Fox finds that he may have stolen one hen too many from the henhouse, as the meanest farmers anywhere — Boggis, Bunce, and Bean (one fat, one short, one lean) — conspire to rid their lands of the Fox family once and for all. The Foxes are able to evade capture with the help of some woodland friends, leaving the farmers laying in wait while the animals help themselves to the fruit of the farmers’ lands. Having had their revenge, the animals return for a sumptuous feast far from danger in the Foxes‘ new home, while the farmers continue to wait in the rain. The opera is available in a singable German version as well.

The Wall Street JournalHeidi Walesonmouse

"Creating operas for children must present composers and librettists with a terrible temptation toward saccharine prettiness and preachy messages about self-esteem, but Tobias Picker and Donald Sturrock, the authors of Fantastic Mr. Fox, did not succumb. Instead, they stayed true to their subject matter -- a novel by Roald Dahl. Children love Dahl...for his macabre sense of humor..."

 

"Mr. Picker demonstrated a profound grasp of dramatic musical storytelling in Emmeline, his first opera...[With Fantastic Mr. Fox, he and Mr. Sturrock] captured Dahl's spirit in a musical language that challenged, entertained and never pandered, skillfully balancing dark and light..."

 

"Two entirely new creatures gave Mr. Picker the chance for some particularly inspired writing: Miss Hedgehog...and Agnes the Digger..."

 

"...with Mr. Picker's lyric gift and dramatic sense, the opera was a captivating and witty entertainment. Oboe themes representing the natural world contrasted with the percussive characterization of the people and the machines. Mr. Picker also made colorful orchestral use of mallet instruments and a piano. The fox family and the quintet of bad guys had catchy ensembles, there were two haunting chorales for a children's chorus of trees, and the fox pair celebrated their victory at the end with, of course, a fox trot..."

 

"...my five-year-old nephew announced that he wants to be Bean next Halloween...[Miss Hedgehog's aria] was my nine-year-old daughter's favorite part. My six-year-old daughter particularly adored the malevolent Agnes, and is still singing the foxcubs' chant, 'Boggis, Bunce and Bean. One fat, one short, one lean.' They'd all see it again, and so would I."

 

OPERA NEWS - Mike Greenbergmouse

With this all-new staging of Fantastic Mr. Fox, Opera San Antonio has signaled its intention to brook no compromises.

 

Picker’s spritzy score has one foot in Stravinsky’s
 neoclassicism and the other gallivanting all over the map… It’s all unified by a consistent way of handling complex
textures, by a penchant for ensemble singing and by an astute theatricality.

 

As impressive as the singing was the cast’s success in melding into a spirited, cohesive acting ensemble under the resourceful stage director Erica Olden, who found plenty of appropriate action for the players without resorting to camp or cliché… British illustrator Emily Carew Woodard designed the delicious confection of storybook and toy imagery, in association with Karen L. Miller (scenery) and Tommy Bourgeois (costumes).

 

The Boston GlobeJeremy Eichler

Dahl's classic fable pits a sticky-fingered fox against three evil farmers – Boggis, Bunce, and Bean – who are out to turn him into stew meat, or some similar fate. In operatic form, the caricature is broad and the charm even broader....

 

...The creators' refusal to condescend to the youngest listeners is admirable, especially as reflected in the score itself...

 

Picker's score deftly weaves together a wide swath of styles, calling to mind at different moments influences as varied as "Peter and the Wolf," "The Rake's Progress," "Mahagonny," klezmer music, and the Broadway stage. The vocal writing quickly telegraphs the essence of a character...

 

Financial Times (London)Timothy Pfaff

"[Picker's score is] is a strong, flexible piece of sustained writing that skillfully juxtaposes the animal kingdom's buoyant innocence with the more mordant colours of the human realm -- music that consistently boasts grateful, characterful vocal writing."

 

 

Suddeutsche Zeitung (Munich)Helmut Mauro

"The great skill of Picker's compositional art can be seen very clearly in this opera. On the one hand the counterpoint of his ideas presents an intellectual challenge...but it is often subliminally combined with bold and catchy orchestral effects... Fantastic Mr. Fox was more than just a succes d'estime. Already it seems other opera houses seem eager to present it."

 

 

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt am Main)Jordan Mejias

"Picker surprises us with a funny, imaginative, varied and often intricately-woven score... In a masterful theatrical touch, the first act ends as a shot rings out, the second with Agnes the Digger and Mavis the Tractor caught dramatically at the moment they are about to wreak their destruction [on the Fox's den]. It's both exciting and technically flawless on the part of the librettist Donald Sturrock... While Mr. Fox walks upon the opera stage, who would want to return to the familiar world of Hansel and Gretel? I would recommend Fantastic Mr. Fox to children of any age."

 

 

hedgehogbwAlbuquerque JournalJoanne Sheery Hoover

Tobias Picker's Second Opera is a Child's Delight

"With five opera commissions in a decade, Picker holds a select, if not unique, position among contemporary opera composers. The odds are high he will become a significant figure in the operatic world."

"Picker responded to the story's bite with some sharp characterizations. He deftly portrayed the three farmers, 'Boggis, Bunce and Bean; one fat, one short, one lean...all equally mean!'...Boggis...got deep, blunt lines...Bunce...had fussy little phrases...and the lean, scheming Bean...sang in slithering phrases."

"Picker also explored the tale's tender aspects with lyrical writing for Mrs. Fox, sensitively portrayed by mezzo soprano Suzanna Guzman. Life's darker side, in the bittersweet song about loss and aging of Miss Hedgehog, nicely shaped by soprano Sari Gruber, offered one of the opera's most touching moments. And Mr. Fox, given lithe physicality by baritone Gerald Finley, had heroic yet slightly bent melodies, reflecting both his goodness and his vanity."

 

 

Palisadian-Post (Pacific Palisades, CA) - Libby Motika

Fantastic Mr. Fox Scores Big

"Fantastic Mr. Fox, Roald Dahl's amusing animal fable, transformed into the colorful and harmonic opera of the same name, opened in a world premiere last week at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Boldly interpreted by composer Tobias Picker...the opera tells the story of three disagreeable farmers and their plot to eliminate cunning Mr. Fox..."

"In composing the music for these strange characters, Picker responded with wit, humor, beauty and vitality."

"For opera enthusiasts who wait for the love duet, Picker offers a beautiful exchange between Mr. and Mrs. Fox...and Miss Hedgehog's melancholic aria is lovely."

"Children will love this opera because it's a good story, colorful and deliciously defiant. The human beings are outwitted time and time [again] by the animals. Adults will love this, too, because we still carry that child inside us."

 

 

San Marino TribuneCarolyn Wightman

Foxy New Opera Takes Stage at Music Center

"There is much to rejoice about when a new American opera takes the stage, and L.A. Opera's world premiere of Fantastic Mr. Fox gives us plenty to be happy about..."

"Children -- and there were scores if not hundreds present on opening night -- sat absolutely entranced; they loved it..."

"Fantastic Mr. Fox is well worth a visit to the Dorothy Chandler [Pavilion]..."

 

Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA) - John Farrellconductorfox

'FANTASTIC' IT IS -- 'Mr. Fox' and Company Charm and Delight Music Lovers of All Ages

"Fantastic Mr. Fox...is many things...It is eminently an opera for children. Filled with funny, morally upright animals and mean, despicable humans, a backhoe that looks like a dinosaur and a message about family values, it is guaranteed to charm young music lovers and get novices through the concert-hall doors."

"It is also an opera for adults. Tobias Picker...has written a score that is sometimes tuneful, sometimes powerfully haunting, sometimes broadly comic, and full of a rich, delicious energy."

"Fantastic Mr. Fox is delightful, light, verbally and musically witty, but thoughtful...this is a work that could be heard with pleasure, without the fancy design."

 

 

Le Monde de la Musique (Paris)Georges Gad

"Can a cartoonist create a real world on stage? Is it possible to sing under a mask? Is opera for children really possible? Fantastic Mr. Foxresponds affirmatively to these three questions... The director, Donald Sturrock has brought together two surprising names. He has written a libretto based on a story of Roald Dahl — the best-selling children's author in the Anglo-Saxon world. He has also chosen the famous cartoonist Gerald Scarfe to design the production. It's a stroke of genius. Sets, costumes and masks are magnificent... And it's not just the visuals that are stunning. Tobias Picker's score flows easily. Songs are linked by brief ariosos. The piano contributes a great deal and the score abounds with ironic ragtime rhythms... Each of the characters is represented by one of the instruments in the orchestra. The wit of the little love-duet between Miss Hedgehog and Porcupine is truly a delight to savour.... The piece blends caricature and emotional reality quite wonderfully. The singers are quite natural in their masks, and Gerald Finley as Mr. Fox, the philosopher ecologist, stands out from the ensemble as a truly remarkable presence."

 

My Name is Agnes

for mezzo-soprano and piano

 

Miss Hedgehog's Aria

for soprano and piano

 

 

One sheet (PDF)

Opera in 3 Acts

Libretto by Donald Sturrock
Based on Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970) by Roald Dahl
65'-80’