The Cunning Little Vixen is one of the gems of 20th century opera.
Written by Leoš Janáček as his creativity was peaking in his late 60s, it
was inspired by a serialised newspaper comic strip featuring forest
creatures, farm animals and humans. This might sound like the recipe for a
light children’s entertainment but the storyline eschews simple
sentimentality or empty buffoonery.
Victoria Opera’s production of this important work is one to treasure.
Stuart Maunder’s production strikes just the right balance with the
colourful woodland creatures interacting perfectly believably with their
drabber human counterparts. The English translation sits naturally, which is
not always the case with opera. Roger Kirk’s costumes have fun with visual
puns, while the raked set and stylised bare trees are beautifully
proportioned to the auditorium. The directors and designers have understood
that the forest is best left to be clothed by Janáček’s richly varied score.
At this point it should be noted that it is not Janáček’s original score
that is used for this production, but recent orchestration for chamber
orchestra by Jonathan Dove. Although deftly done, this does rob the music of
one dimension with the body in the climactic surges or the contrast between
full orchestra and chamber groupings. However a full orchestra would neither
fit the pit nor the acoustics of the Playhouse, and bonus is that audience
is provided with more intimate contact with the performers.
Orchestra Victoria continue in the particularly fine form they have been
demonstrating recently, and even though the simultaneous use of larger
forces for the ballet meant additional players were recruited for Vixen, the
results were still uniformly splendid and Jack Symonds conducting was
The cast is splendid with not one weak link among man, woman, child or
creature. The whole performance is grounded by Barry Ryan’s aging Forester.
His fine baritone shows no sign of strain above the stave and is always at
the service of the music. Celeste Lazarenko’s Vixen is coquettish, vulnerable and mature
in turn as required, with comfortable stage presence and vocal security. Antoinette Halloran presents a suitably wily fox with just the
occasional vocal challenge in this difficult part. Dimity Shepherd has fun
with the part of the owl as well as adding world-weariness to the role of
the Forester’s Wife. Brenton Spiteri as the mosquito and schoolmaster adds a
pleasantly reedy tenor ideally suited to Middle European music, while Samuel
Dundas as Harašta and Jeremy Kleeman as the Parson and Badger add some
suitably darker timbres to the vocal palette. The child performers are
uniformly wonderful and it is a pleasure to see the next generation of
performers bouncing, wriggling and strutting their stuff.
However, this work doesn’t just depend on a handful of soloists, and is a
true ensemble between soloists, adult chorus members and children’s chorus
creatures. After all, we are reminded at the end of the opera of transience
and regeneration of life, not by a self-important aria from a chief
protagonist, but in a few simple words from a tiny frog – sung beautifully
in this case by Lisha Ooi.
This little production will live long in the memory. Better still were it
to live long in the repertoire of Victorian Opera.
Copyright © 1995 -
Selected sheet music of The Cunning Little Vixen:
The Cunning Little Vixen
Opera in 3 Acts. Composed by Leos Janacek (1854-1928). This edition: English/German/Czech. Piano reduction/vocal score. Universal Edition #UE033550. Published by Universal Edition (PR.UE033550).
The Cunning Little Vixen
Opera in 3 Acts. Composed by Leos Janacek (1854-1928). The New Study Score Series. Study score. Duration 1 hour, 50 minutes. Universal Edition #UE034126. Published by Universal Edition (PR.UE034126).