This revived production of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen is another triumph for WNO. Born in Moravia in 1854 it was only in 1924 that Janáček first staged his opera.
Inspired by the illustrated tales of ‘Vixen Sharp-Ears’ the opera tells the story of the life and death of the Vixen, captured by the Forester from whom she later escapes, falling in love with the Fox and having a family, and eventually being shot by the Poacher. This may rather sound grim but the opera is a delight, especially this production originally devised by David Pountney and co-produced with Scottish Opera.
The relationship between the Forester and the Vixen is at the heart of the opera, and there is a bond of love between them. Desire affects especially the male human characters (there is also a Schoolmaster and a Parson), all yearning for the elusive Terynka.
Lucia Cervoni and Aoife Miskelly
Aoife Miskelly and Helen Greenway
But it is the animals who are the stars of the show. The Vixen is played with wonderful joie de vivre and edge by Northern Irish Aoife Miskelly; she captivates and alarms in equal measure. Many of the other animals are played by children to charming effect, especially the little hare who is a victim of the Vixen. Delightful also was the dragonfly who shimmers and dances, but also first signals the theme of death and rebirth with the passing of the seasons. Particularly amusing were the Forester’s chickens, even if they come to a sticky end.
The staging itself is simple but effective, rolling green hills parting at times to provide space for human life. The representation of the melting of the winter snows entertained the audience. Another triumph of design was costume, be it the flapper-style dress of the Vixen, or the country garb and diamond pattern jumper of the Fox.
In conjunction with its charm the opera also engages with serious political issues, such as feminism and socialism, issues still resonant today. To an extent the singing plays second fiddle to the enacting and staging of the story, but the whole makes for a perfect package. Make sure you catch this unforgettable production!