Opera Scotland

Jan Tait and the Bear

Tours by decade

2010s - 2 tours

2016 - Ensemble Thing
Fully Staged with Orchestra
2018 - Ensemble Thing

Tours by location


Emily Doolittle


The composer and Peter Guy


Mediaeval Shetlandic tale.



First Performance: Glasgow (Centre for Contemporary Art), 6 October 2016.



Jan Tait and the Bear is a chamber opera suitable for children and adults, and for fans of contemporary and folk music. Based on a tale of adventure, friendship and a ferocious bear, it offers a fascinating window into life in mediaeval Shetland, and is a reflection on the kinship between humans and animals. The story has been handed down by oral tradition, blending truth, exaggeration and fantasy with rough, earthy humour.

The score is by Canadian-born, Glasgow-based composer Emily Doolittle, and the libretto is co-written by Doolittle and Shetlander Peter Guy. The instrumental quintet consists of flute, clarinet, accordion, violin and cello. Three performers are required, an actor who narrates, with a short amount of singing at the end; a mezzo who plays the title role; and a baritone who performs the remaining four parts in succession, including the bear.

The piece was written with support from the Canada Council for the Arts. The development of Jan Tait and the Bear received funding from OPERA America's Opera Grants for Female Composers program, supported by the Virginia B Toulmin Foundation.



Narrator (actor)

Jan Tait (mezzo-soprano)

Sigurd, a tax collector (baritone)

Brok, a king's officer (baritone)

King of Norway (baritone)

Bear (baritone)



The setting is 15th century Shetland, when its islands were under Norwegian rule and when taxes were paid in butter. Fetlar local Jan Tait lands himself in deep trouble when he clashes with Sigurd, the corrupt  Norwegian tax officer. Jan ends up killing him, and the opera follows him after his arrest by Brok, on an adventure-laden journey to Norway, a perilous encounter with the king, and a triumphant journey home, accompanied by a ferocious brown bear. This creature he drugged with the intention of killing it. However he takes pity on the comatose beast, escaping with it back to Shetland, where the two continue to live in harmony.

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