The LA Opera's world premiere production of Tobias Picker's "Fantastic
Mr. Fox" is a delightfully funny morality play in a fantastical
cartoon like setting. The stage is framed in a proscenium arch with
cartoon pictures of the three farmers, chickens, and geese. The set
is a revolving hill side. On one side is the foxes's den, the other
has the shacks of the three farmers. We first meet Mrs. Fox, who
enters in the audience. She tells us about her family, then goes up
on stage to her fox hole, and her four children sing a beautiful
quartet. Mr. Fox shows us that he has the longest, slimmest nose,
most perfectly pointed ears, brightest eyes, and the bushiest tail.
He's the most exquisite animal in the forest, and lets everyone know.
In this story, the animals display all of the most noble qualities,
love, friendship, and loyalty, while the humans display only
meanness, gluttony, selfishness, and brutality. Louis Lebherz is the
huge Farmer Boggis. He's as big around as five people, from eating a
dozen or so of his chickens a day. He argues with Bunce over which is
better his chickens or Bunce's geese. While they bicker, Bean enters,
reminding them that only money matters. Mr. Fox has been stealing
their products, Bean has found the fox hole, and they lie in wait to
kill the fox.
The second act opens with a beautiful children's chorus. They are dressed in dark and white striped clothing that looks like bark, with some holding branches as they all come together to form a tree. Their song is about what does a tree see of the relations between humans, animals, and nature. We move to Mr. Fox fretting over his tail stub in the mirror. The Farmers have made him a rifle Manx, and he is certain no one will respect him anymore without his tail. Mrs. Fox and the cubs reassure him, however. The Farmers, meanwhile have brought in Mavis the Tractor and Agnes the Earthmover to dig up the foxes den. Agnes is a dragon like creature with a flyshaft, a big jaws-like digger on top, lights that shine like eyes, and it breaths fire through two nostrils. When they all get near the foxhole, the Foxes and their friends, Badger and Burrowing Mole dig deeper into the hill, as the animals escape.
In Act 3 the Farmers and their machines are in the dug out hillside. The tree is still on top, but the roots are exposed behind the Farmers. The Foxes are in their new home, but Mrs. Fox is sad because her home has been destroyed. Mr. Fox laments that "we've a natural gift for forest life that humans lost long ago." They persevere and overcome their difficulties. Josepha Gayer's Rita the Rat sings to us of the intelligence of her species. She sings of the philosophy of Spinoza, and arrives for the Foxes' housewarming party in a graduation cap and gown, with her long Rat's nose, long fingers, and tail that she swishes around. Miss Hedgehog and Mr. Porcupine spy each other across the room, and it's love at first sight. The spines stand up on her back and they sing a beautiful duet about "our quills will turn gray and fall out, but we'll be together forever, snout to snout." Mr. and Mrs. Fox do a two step across the stage before we switch back to the Farmers and their machines in the big hole that they might still be in.
This opera is exquisitely choreographed. The animals move gracefully and precisely. The Foxes are sleek and sensual in their movements. They preen themselves and each other, while Boggis and Bunce waddle and Bean goosestips. We have fantastic costumes of geese, the animals, and a headless chicken lurching around the stage. This opera has a rich appreciation of nature and all life. The humans are definitely the odd ones here. Gerald Scarfe's costumes and stage designs show the personality of each character. The Foxes are sleek and elegant, the Hedgehog bristling. Visually the farmers reflect their vices. Librettist Donald Sturrock directed and Peter Ash led the orchestra in this enchanting world premiere production of "Fantastic Mr. Fox."