Reynaert, Willem Woestenburg

Title Reynaert
English Title
Composer Willem Woestenburg
Librettists Joop C.G. Fransen


Fable opera (three acts)
First performance 6 October 1989, Theater Marcanti, Amsterdam
Time of action Twelfth century, Flanders
Place of action

Act I

  1. King Nobel’s court
  2. Before Malpertuis, Reynaert’s den
  3. Carpenter Lamfriet’s yard
  4. The bank of a river
  5. King Nobel’s court

Act II

  1. Before Malpertuis
  2. Near the parsonage
  3. In Reynaert’s den
  4. King Nobel’s court
  5. In Reynaert’s den
  6. King Nobel’s court


  1. On the way to the gallows
  2. At the gallows
  3. Before Malpertuis
  4. King Nobel’s court
Main parts
  • King Nobel, the lion, bass-baritone
  • Reynaert, the fox, tenor
  • Hermelijne, the vixen, soprano
  • Tybeert, the cat, mezzosoprano
  • Bruun, the bear, baritone
  • Grimbeert, the badger, tenor
  • Cantecleer, the rooster, comic tenor
  • Ysengrijn, the wolf, bass
  • Courtoys, a poodle, tenor or soprano
Prominence of chorus Very large
Orchestra 1 flute, 1 oboe, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, timpani/percussion, strings
Special demands On account of the large number of roles, the opera can only be performed by large companies (60 persons at least)
Full score and orchestral parts Available
Level Not difficult
Length About 2½ hours. Three acts

In one respect, the work is an opera rather than an operetta: it contains hardly any spoken dialogue; what there is of it is mostly accompanied by orchestral music (melodrama). This was done to give the work – in which there are many changes of scene – continuity. The choruses are set for four voices. There are solos, duets, ensembles, but also purely orchestral pieces, e.g. the overture, entr’actes, dances, and illustrative music accompanying stage-business (such as the pieces indicating journeys to and fro, played from beginning to end and vice versa). The music is never atonal, though the composer has employed a variety of styles that ranges from medieval to twentieth-century.


The story is based on Van den Vos Reynaerde, a Middle Dutch epic. Reynaert the fox is three times summoned to court to answer for his misdeeds. The first two envoys (the bear and the cat) return from their mission badly maltreated, but the third (the badger) persuades the defendant to come with him. The fox is condemned to death. However, in his final speech he manages to take advantage of the king’s (the lion’s) greed and the queen’s soft-heartedness. He is pardoned and restored to honour, then takes the opportunity to play tricks on his enemies, the bear, the cat and the wolf. He is sent back to his home accompanied by the hare and the ram. At home he invites the hare to come in, bites off his head and sends the ram back to court with a bag, telling him it contains an important message. When the bag is opened, the message is found to be the murdered hare’s head. The impotent court finds no better way to express its rage than by outlawing the ram, bearer of unwelcome news, and his kind for the rest of time. The work ends cheerfully in a glorious quadruple fugue, pronouncing the moral in Latin: Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur, or: The world wants to be fooled, so let’s fool it.


The characters may be dressed as human beings, but certain details, such as manes, a cock’s comb, ears, tails etc. should make it clear to the audience what animals they represent.


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Tags: Woestenburg | Fransen Librettist