The Cunning Little Vixen – Opera in three acts to a libretto by the composer after Rudolf Tĕsnohlidek [sung in Czech with English supertitles]
Forester – Sergei Leiferkus
Vixen Sharp Ears (Bystrouška) – Lucy Crowe
Fox – Emma Bell
Badger / Parson – Mischa Schelomianski
Harašta, a poacher – William Dazeley
Forester’s Wife / Owl – Jean Rigby
Schoolmaster / Mosquito – Adrian Thompson
Pásek, Innkeeper – Colin Judson
Innkeeper’s Wife – Sarah Pring
Cricket – Sebastian Davies
Grasshopper – Beatrice Watkins
Frog – Orlando Woscholski
Young Vixen Sharp Ears – Louise Moseley
Dog – Lucie Špičková
Pepík – Stefan Leadbeater
Frantík – Joshua Richardson
Cockerel – Kirsty Stokes
Hen – Thomasin Trezise
Jay – Eimear Collins
Woodpecker – Mae Heydorn
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Melly Still – Director
Tom Pye – Set Designer
Dinah Collin – Costume Designer
Paule Constable – Lighting designer
Maxine Doyle – Choreographer
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 20 May, 2012
Venue: Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes, East Sussex, England
Glyndebourne Festival Opera 2012 opens the door to summer with Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen (the first of six productions this year). This initiating performance was a musical joy from beginning to end. The opera itself – typically compact with every bar being significant – was inspired by a daily newspaper’s cartoon strip, Janáček keen to know the latest adventures of the vixen Bystrouška and embroiled enough to then place her in an operatic setting with music bountiful in wit, illustration and compassion.
The story (more a series of events) and the characters’ emotions are expressed in the orchestra. What occurs in terms of the synopsis is colourfully revealed in Melly Still’s administration of it. Sometimes what is happening and who is doing the dealing seems blurred; maybe deliberately, the intention being that the dividing line between human existence and the animal kingdom is a very thin one, that wildlife and insects have feelings and relationships too, and are also capable of gratuitous violence (think foxes and chickens), and that we’re all in life together. This director set the bar high with her inspired conception of Rusalka for Glyndebourne (revised last year). There isn’t quite the same magic here, our involvement with the protagonists and their situations slightly at one-remove. Still resists hierarchies; she also underplays the slaying of Vixen, shot by Harašta. There is much activity, though, not least through imaginative choreography (Janáček providing a fund of dance-related music). A tree is centre-stage, an adaptable prop that reports the seasons of the years, its branches a home for the non-persons to converse and observe. Behind is a winding pathway of steep gradient; in winter, when the snow arrives, it looks like a toboggan run. Still gives the deeds delivered in the forest an appropriate comic-book look, the Forester’s lodge an offshoot of the woodland, and something more austere for the Inn, where the Forester becomes a philosopher upon reaching the bottom of a glass and goads the Schoolmaster who reciprocates the taunts.
Lucy Crowe, making her debut in the role, presents a sassy, savvy and strong Vixen. Emma Bell is the Fox, Vixen’s prince charming, the two developing real chemistry in Act Three when true love blossoms and voices soar and their bushy tales become symbolic of feeling (a lovely moment, one of many). As the Forester, Sergei Leiferkus is ideally Slavic of timbre and plangent in expression who ultimately reminisces fondly with deeper awareness about past generations of creatures and the natural beauties surrounding him. The cast of many is excellent overall, the Czech language mastered, its rhythms and stresses intrinsic to the music it inspired. Changes of set, carried out in full view, are deftly handled, easily constructed and just as effortlessly removed.
The quick-paced action is compressed into an active and vivid score – lean and potent, beguiling and stimulating – that yields to heart-rending poignancy and, at the close, pantheistic generosity, each bar incident-packed and heard in a clarity-perfect acoustic in a theatre of perfect scale. Having addressed some of the music in its final Royal Festival Hall concert of the just-finished season, the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s members were in impeccable form fully exploiting their instruments’ tonal and dynamic possibilities, Vladimir Jurowski (Glyndebourne’s and the LPO’s Music Director) perfectly pacing and explicating music that is both inimitable and original.
There was a buzz to this opening night and not only from the insects that fly around this production, for the members of the audience also enjoyed the country-house setting and the contents of picnic hampers in the grounds on a balmy evening during the traditional long interval: all terribly indulgent but also the bringer of solace.