Opera in One Act
Music by Peter Winkler
Libretto by Rhoda Levine, with Peter Winkler
These three short fables follow the adventures of a crafty fox as he attempts to capture his prey.
In “The Fox and the Grapes,” the Fox introduces himself: he is not your typical fox but a “fox of distinction, of discriminating taste, a connoisseur.” He aspires to “something finer: the delicate, the piquant, the pure.” He hears the “seductive hum” of a bunch of grapes, who sing as they bask in the sunshine high on their vine. The fox attempts various ruses to persuade the grapes to come to him. At first the grapes refuse, then one of them is tempted by the fox’s seductive offers. She is overruled by the others, who remind her of their vow: “We must never let go of our vine ‘til our vine lets go of us.” Frustrated, the fox attempts to take the grapes by force, but is unable to reach them. In disgust, he declares that the grapes are sour. Offended, the grapes announce that they will no longer sing to him.
In “The Fox and the Hen” we meet a hen, whom the fox chases up a tree. He attempts to lure her down by telling her that at a “convention that met in Peru” the animal kingdom had declared universal amnesty: “killing each other is a thing of the past. The peaceable kingdom is here at last.” The hen joins in as he sings “we are no longer beasts of prey; today shall be our dancing day.” She agrees to come down and join him, announcing that from her perch in the tree she sees “new friends approaching to join in the dance:” three foxhounds and a man with a gun. The fox makes a hasty exit, and the hen sighs, “So much for the peaceable kingdom. Alas, too good to be true.”
In “The Lion and the Fox” the fox is found lurking by the lion’s den hoping to catch a scrap of food. A dove enters, announcing that she has been summoned to see the king. The fox’s pursuit of the dove is interrupted by a fierce roar from the lion’s den. The lion appears, announcing that he the king of beasts, but he is old and sick, and has summoned his subjects to comfort him as he lies at death’s door. The dove allows the lion to usher her into his den; her coo-ing is suddenly cut short, and the fox wonders what has happened. A lamb appears; she has also come to comfort the lion, and she suffers the same fate as the dove. The lion asks the fox to come into his den, but the fox refuses: “I see many footprints that enter your den, but for all the footprints I see going in, none do I see coming out.” We hear the ghostly voices of the slain dove and lamb, lamenting that they never should have trusted the lion. The fox delivers the moral: “If we do not question our self-proclaimed kings, we richly deserve the fate it brings.”
Peter Winkler’s lively and tuneful score draws on operatic and vocal traditions ranging from Mozart to the Beach Boys. The librettist and director, Rhoda Levine, has directed opera all over the world, including important productions for Netherlands Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, The Spoleto festival, New York City Opera, and the first production of Porgy and Bess in South Africa. She is the author of eight children’s books, including Three Ladies Beside the Tree with illustrations by Edward Gorey, which has just been republished by New York Review books.