Fantastic Mr Fox
John Brancy, Krista River, Andrew Craig Brown, Edwin Vega, Gabriel Preisser, Elizabeth Futral, Tynan Davis, Theo Lebow, Andrey Nemzer, Gail Novak Mosites, John Dooley, Jonathan Blalock; Boston Children’s Chorus; Odyssey Opera; Boston Modern Orchestra Project/Gil Rose
Boston Modern Opera BMOP 1065 82:01 mins (2 discs)
What’s artistically good for children is often better for adults. Think no further than Alice in Wonderland, Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel and Peter Pan. For the American composer Tobias Picker and his librettist Donald Sturrock this is the company that Roald Dahl keeps in his story Fantastic Mr Fox.
It’s an opera that circles an uncomfortable ambiguity about where moral boundaries lie within the natural world. So the trio of monstrous farmers – Boggis, Bunce and Bean – who try to dig Mr Fox out of his den with a mechanical digger are hoping to put an end to his slaughter of their chickens and geese and the theft of their cider. Their capacity for violent destruction is set against a nature that is undoubtedly red in tooth and claw. Of course, there are no prizes for guessing whose side Picker’s music is on with hints of Janáček, a seductive Klezmer clarinet for Rita the Rat and an exquisite lyrical number for a chorus of trees. Foxes 3: Farmers 0!
The role of Mr Fox was handsomely created by Gerald Finley in 1998, but in this recording from 2014 John Brancy takes the role as if it was his birthright. It’s a fully rounded performance with just the right mixture of cunning and concern as the farmers hunt him and his family down. As for the rest of the cast, who could resist the countertenor Andrey Nemzer as Agnes the very butch mechanical digger. Here’s a toy for very grown-up children!