New York Philharmonic/Gilbert – The Cunning Little Vixen

The Cunning Little Vixen – Opera in three acts to a libretto by the composer after Rudolf Tĕsnohlidek [2010 edition by Jiří Zahrádka sung in an English translation by Norman Tucker with English surtitles]

Forester – Alan Opie
Forester’s Wife / Owl – Melissa Parks
Schoolmaster / Mosquito – Keith Jameson
Badger / Parson – Wilbur Pauley
Harašta – Joshua Bloom
Pásek – John Kawa
Mrs Pásková – Tami Petty
Pepik – Jennifer Bates
Frantik – Serena Benedetti
Young Vixen – Noah Sadik
Vixen – Isabel Bayrakdarian
Fox – Marie Lenormand
Cricket – Kiki Porter
Grasshopper – John Albert
Frog – Yves Mervin-Leroy
Lapák – Kelley O’Connor
Cock / Jay – Emalie Savoy
Chocholka – Devon Guthrie
Woodpecker – Lacey BenterHens – Kirsten Kane, Helen Karloski, Margarita Martinez, Erica Powell & Elena Williamson
Butterfly – Jane Albert
Chipmunk – Seth Ewing-Crystal
Hedgehog – Dylan Hamme
Bird Boy – Richard Hausman
Moth – Andrea Morokutti
Beetle – Anthony Pedone
Dragonfly – Neel Najarajan
Rabbit – Sofus Rose
Terynka – Emily Wagner

New York Choral Artists
Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus

New York Philharmonic
Alan Gilbert

Doug Fitch – Director, Costume Designer & Co-Scenic Designer
Karole Armitage – Choreographer
Edouard Getaz – Producer
G. W. Mercier – Co-Scenic Designer
Clifton Taylor – Lighting Designer
Cookie Jordan – Make-up & Body Painting

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 22 June, 2011
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

The hall transformed. Alan Gilbert arrives onstage to begin the performance of The Cunning Little Vixen in Avery Fisher Hall. New York PhilharmonicIn what may be emerging as Alan Gilbert’s signature as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, he is bringing his second season to a close with another fully staged production of opera – this time, Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen. Gilbert has brought back the artistic team that created for György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre just over a year ago (although the current production has none of its puppets, animations and projections). Doug Fitch has cobbled together bits and pieces of everyday clothing to make whimsical costumes for the forest animals, and collaborated with G. W. Mercier on a design that is both charming and effective.

The forest comes alive. The Mosquito, played by Keith Jameson, joins the frolicking animals, birds, and insects — many played by members of The Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus — that inhabit the woods and the world of the Vixen. New York PhilharmonicThe stage of Avery Fisher Hall has been extended forward and a jagged walkway added to bring the performers into the midst of the audience. Tall sunflowers tower above the orchestra, which is seated behind scenic elements representing the Forester’s yard and the inn, as well as the various forest locales. A huge overhead scrim served as both the sky and a screen on which surtitles were effectively projected (and were quite necessary, as singers are often hard-pressed to be heard clearly in this auditorium). Clifton Taylor’s lighting reflects the score’s changing moods, as well as the cycles of night and day and of the seasons. Fitch created delightful and effective costumes for the animals portrayed with great allure by children, as well as for the vocalists playing animal roles. Fitch’s direction and Karole Armitage’s choreography impelled the performance forward and brought out effectively the libretto’s philosophical and political references.

Capture. Alan Opie as the Forester, carries off the Young Vixen (Noah Sadik) and takes her to his home as a pet for his children. New York PhilharmonicAs the protagonists in the opera’s main plot, Alan Opie as the Forester and Isabel Bayrakdarian as Vixen gave excellent performances both vocally and dramatically. Bayrakdarian and Marie Lenormand as Fox provided some of most beautiful singing. The scene in which they were joined by members of the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus as their offspring was particularly delightful. Keith Jameson was marvellous in his dual roles of Mosquito and Schoolmaster. As the former in the opening scene he hovered over the sleeping Forester as if using his long proboscis to draw the human’s blood and store it in a blood-red backpack. As he exited up an aisle toward the rear of the Hall, he found himself behind an elderly gentleman who was very slowly proceeding in the same direction. Unable to pass – and probably unwilling to risk taking the man by surprise – Jameson remained in character in what proved to be one of the funniest moments of the evening. But the opera’s most comedic scene was Vixen’s encounter with the Cock (brilliantly portrayed by Emalie Savoy) and the stylized strutting of Hens. Among the other fine principals were Joshua Bloom as Harašta, Melissa Parks as Forester’s Wife and Owl, Kelley O’Connor as Lapák the dog, and Wilbur Pauley as Badger and Parson. Emily Wagner danced beautifully as Terynka in the Vixen’s dream. Although the chorus plays a rather limited role in this opera, the members of New York Choral Artists acquitted themselves with customary excellence.

Notwithstanding the excellent vocalists, fascinating scenic and costume designs, and enchanting child performers, the biggest stars were Gilbert and the Philharmonic, which gave an astoundingly beautiful performance. Gilbert undertook this project in large measure because of the central role that the orchestra plays in Janáček’s score, and the musicians responded superbly to his loving approach with playing that was both precise and rich, each instrument coming through with clarity and in perfect balance, demonstrating vividly how great an orchestra the New York Philharmonic is.

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