I really want to like opera. I have tried but I’ve never been blown away by it. Not even by Tosca at the Met in New York. Although I’m never going to love it as much as I love ballet and theatre, I can appreciate it and I don’t want my children to grown up to be philistines (like their mother) so I jumped at the chance to take my younger daughter to Fox-tot!, Scottish Opera’s latest foray into creating opera for children.
Fox-tot! is basically a baby sensory class with better music. It is specially composed and choreographed to appeal to little people and Scottish Opera’s Director of Education and Outreach, Jane Davidson, explains that it ‘aims to stimulate the little ones’ physical and intellectual curiosity in their surroundings as well as instilling the beginnings of empathy, a critical skill which is arguably the most defining of all human qualities.’
The staging is lovely, strewn with brightly coloured leaves. There are four performers: Mezzo-soprano Katie Grosset and Countertenor Daniel Keating-Roberts as singers and puppeteers, accompanied by cellist Laura Sergeant and Michael D Clark running percussion (mainly a huge xylophone (marimba? I’m a bit clueless!) with approximately 8 trillion note combinations).
Little fox soon emerges from the autumn leaves and sets off on a magical journey, seeing the world through the eyes of a variety of puppet creatures including a cat, a frog (ingeniously fashioned out of a leather backpack) and a butterfly. Fox experiences some standard Scottish weather on her journey, the refrain ‘Plip plop, the rain won’t stop’ being particularly apt for the weather in Edinburgh lately. She also sees day turn to night, and back to morning again. Night-time was wonderful, depicted by a fabulous full moon with a feast of different textures irresistible to curious toddlers.
The children were actively engaged from the outset. As curious little fox investigated the audience, they had an opportunity to stroke her or to pull her tail as she went past. The audience were also scattered with leaves, draped with scarves and could reach out to touch the furry yellow sun or the moon as they floated by.
At one point the percussionist played on an object I have never seen before. One that looks more like a torture instrument than a musical instrument but makes a surprisingly nice sound when bowed. I later learned that it was a waterphone. It looked a bit like this – isn’t it cool?
Children are encouraged to sit on cushions at the front for the best view and so that they’re right at the edge of the action. Many of them couldn’t resist joining in the action, crawling or toddling around the set. I was quite stressed out by this, being very much a rule follower and having been asked at the start to please keep kids off the main stage area, but luckily the performers were adept at manoeuvring around tiny stage invaders and I am sure that they all had a wonderful time!
Overall Fox-tot! is a lovely introduction to opera. The toddlers were wide-eyed with the excitement of it all and they absolutely loved exploring the stage and meeting the friendly performers afterwards so make sure you leave time for this.
If you love opera then you will definitely love this. If you don’t love opera, still don’t write this one off. It was very well done.
P.S. We were gifted press tickets in order to provide this review but all thoughts and opinion are entirely our own.
Fox-tot! is on at Edinburgh Academy at 10am and 11.30am until 16 August (except Mondays). You can buy tickets here. The show is then touring Scotland in Spring 2020.