Opera Scotland

Fantastic Mr Fox

Music
Tobias Picker (born New York, 18 July 1954)

Text
Donald Sturrock.

Source
Story (1970) by Roald Dahl.

Premières
First performance: Los Angeles (Dorothy Chandler Pavilion), 9 December 1998.
First UK performance: To be confirmed, March 2011.
First performance in Scotland: N/A.
Scottish Opera première: N/A.

Background
Tobias Picker has an excellent composing pedigree, having studied with Charles Wuorinen and John Corigliano at the Manhattan School of Music, Elliott Carter at the Juilliard, and Milton Babbitt at Princeton. He then had appointments as composer-in-residence at Houston and Santa Fe. He seems to be willing to use tonal and atonal music as the dramatic situation demands. His operatic works are theatrically effective, and musically highly approachable, following the tradition of operatic composition in the USA established by Copland, Bernstein, Floyd and others. It was for Santa Fe that he composed his first opera, Emmeline, premiered in 1996. It is a serious piece, and although it has an American setting, the classical Greek world of Oedipus is not far away.

His next opera Fantastic Mr Fox, based on a story by Roald Dahl, could hardly be more of a contrast, though he has described it as “an adult comedy masquerading as a children’s opera”, and early criticism complained that it was neither one thing nor the other. Parodistic musical forms are used in a piece which contrasts animals (good) with humans (bad) and adds an Orwellian Animal Farm tinge to the world of The Cunning Little Vixen, without achieving the universal relevance that Janáček attained. The original production was designed by the political caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, and starred Canadian baritone Gerald Finley in the title role.

Picker followed Fox with another extremely serious subject, an adaptation of Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin (Dallas 2001). This was a joint commission for Dallas, Montreal and San Diego, and his rapid development was shown by the fact that his next commission was for the Met. Graeme Jenkins, who worked often at Scottish Opera in the 1980s before his move to the States, conducted the premiere of Thérèse Raquin. The director was Francesca Zambello, with designs by Marie-Jeanne Lecca (a bit of a contrast with her designs for Scottish Opera’s Iolanthe of 1986). Chandos recorded the opening cast.

Main Characters
Mr Fox (baritone)
Mrs Fox (mezzo-soprano)
Rita the Rat (mezzo-soprano)
Miss Hedgehog (soprano)
Farmer Boggis (bass)
Farmer Bean (bass)

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