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Aug 15, 2019 |
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Fox Fables - Young People's Opera Review

NOA Young People’s Opera Committee
Opera Review of Fox Fables
Music by Peter Winkler; Libretto by Rhoda Levine with Peter Winkler
Review by Lynette Pfund

Fox Fables 

The Fox and the Grapes 

The Fox and the Hen 

The Lion and the Fox

opera in one act 

Music by Peter Winkler 

Libretto by Rhoda Levine with Peter Winkler 

Review by Lynette Pfund
 

Characters:  

The Fox and the Grapes 

Fox (tenor), Grape no. 1 (soprano), Grape no. 2 (mezzo), Grape no. 3 (baritone) 

The Fox and the Hen 

Fox (tenor), Hen (soprano)  

The Lion and the Fox 

Fox (tenor), Lamb (soprano), Dove (mezzo), Lion (baritone) 

Opera companies and university opera programs are frequently looking for performance opportunities for their emerging singing professionals. Opera outreach is a wonderful way to flesh out the resumes of young artists and to get out into communities with opera performances. Fox Fables, written by Peter Winkler and Rhoda Levine, is a humorous show full life lessons to be sung by young professional singers for young children. It also has many interesting characteristics that producers and directors will love.  

The ideal audience for Fox Fables is elementary aged children. The three playful stories with the exaggerated characters and ridiculous situations will instantly relate to children. The Fox talks about being disgusted by “road kill” because his tastes are too refined, the Grapes hum in the sun, the Hen makes all sorts of silly clucking noises, and in between gigantic roars, the Lion lures his meals by pretending to be sick with fake coughing. The stories are well chosen (fables are often in school curriculums), and the enthusiastic presenter can easily craft educational materials around the opera to extend classroom learning. Other topics found in the opera, such as plant growth cycles, using common sense, and lessons such as “don’t go with strangers” and “be smart” already tie into existing class lessons. 

The score itself is professionally formatted, very clear, and easy to read. On its own, the production is the perfect length for a fifty minute/hour-long school assembly. The show is divided into three parts, the first two stories lead up to the third, but do not fully rely on each other. This is nice if there is a need to cut one to make the outreach show fit a 30-minute elementary music class period. There is built-in casting flexibility, too. The production ultimately needs a quartet (soprano, mezzo, tenor, and baritone), with the four voices performing more than one role as the stories progress. However, if you have a slew of singers who need roles, you can simply spread them out. Extreme humor in the stories allow for lots of creativity, including a bit of improve worked into the Hen’s character. The show does not call for a single prop and has very few set pieces. A little creativity is needed for the last story, but overall this is a low maintenance show, perfect for traveling outreach. 

Fox Fables, however, will need some time to put together. The music has some challenges. The score calls for a single pianist. This part has lots of character and will keep your pianist busy with brisk, simple to compound meter changes with lots of syncopation. These meters make perfect musical sense, but for many young professionals (and pianists) the musical transitions between them may be new. It will take some rehearsal time to coordinate. The singing parts are not overly rangy, but they are well-written for the voice.

The parts are interesting and will challenge younger singers in the right way. The soprano parts range from a low (D) to a high (A-flat), but they mostly sit in the middle of the voice. The mezzo parts are mostly low to middle ranged: low (B) to an (F) on the top of the staff. The tenor range is medium with a few high notes that should not be a problem because of how they are approached. The baritone part may be a stretch for some young singers. The range is from (C) to high (F) with long stretches full of high (E-flats).   

Overall, Fox Fables is destined to be performed. It offers the right kinds of challenges to young singers. It is crafty and foolish in all the best ways for those performing and for those watching the performance. There is room for creativity and cooperative education. It is low maintenance which will keep costs down for those who have tight budgets. 

Lynette Pfund co-directs the opera workshop in the Lionel Hampton School of Music at the University of Idaho.