Fringe Opera
Magnusson Theatre, Edinburgh Academy
Keith Bruce
four stars
AN adult audience that was as distracting as the one I sat with for the first of two new productions Scottish Opera is presenting in Edinburgh this year would get short shrift from this writer. When the target demographic is between 12 and 24 months, however, it is difficult to be quite so critical.
Following the international success of his opera for babies, BambinO, composer Lliam Paterson has moved up a gear to the toddling pubic with the story of a young fox (Daniel Keating-Roberts) learning the ways of the natural world under the watchful eye of his mother (mezzo Katie Grosset).
The use of a counter-tenor for the lead role is the most immediately ear-catching device of a fine score in which the singers are partnered by Laura Sergeant, on cello and a small keyboard, and percussionist Michael D Clark. Evoking the other members of the animal kingdom our hero encounters - including a cat, a wonderful back-pack frog and a butterfly - as well as the differing atmosphere of a bright, furry sun and a beautifully made moon, the instrumentalists are as important a part of the aural landscape as the singers.
With much of the set being interactively available to the youngsters, and engaged with or ignored as they saw fit, there was a feeling of sensory overload for the more mature, partly explained by the entertainment offered in the reactions of the kids. When opportunities for animal impersonation or dance moves were available, the girls were early to catch on; when Grosset wanted to use some of the round cushions available to floor-sitting ticket-holders as lily-pads for the frog-puppet, they had to be retrieved from the young lad who was methodically stacking them. Discuss.
Perhaps Roxana Haines’s production doesn’t have quite the charm of BambinO, which was visually even more surreal but also more colourfully arresting, and nor do either of these singers bring quite the performance flair soprano Charlotte Hoather supplied in the earlier work. But my happy fellow audience-members, I reckon, could hardly have cared less about any of that.