Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Performances

Probing Bernstein and MacMillan double bill in Amsterdam

The Opera Forward Festival (OFF) in Amsterdam is about new things: new compositions, rediscovered works and new faces. This year’s program included a double bill produced by Dutch National Opera’s talent development wing. Leonard Bernstein’s portrait of a miserable marriage in affluent suburbia, Trouble in Tahiti, was the contrasting companion piece to James McMillan’s Clemency, a study of the sinister side of religious belief.

Macbeth in Lyon

A revival of the Opéra de Lyon’s 2012 Occupy Wall St. production of Verdi’s 1865 Macbeth, transforming naive commentary into strange irony, some high art included.

Barber of Seville Is Fun in Tucson

On March 4, 2018, Arizona Opera presented Gioachino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville in Tucson. Allen Moyer designed the bright and happy scenery for performances at Minnesota Opera,

Moody, Mysterious Morel

Long Beach Opera often takes willing audiences on an unexpected journey and such is undeniably the case with its fascinating traversal of The Invention of Morel.

Acis and Galatea: 2018 London Handel Festival

Katie Hawks makes quite a claim for Handel’s Acis and Galatea when, in her programme article, she describes it as the composer’s ‘most perfect work’. Surely, one might feel, this is a somewhat hyperbolic evaluation of a 90-minute pastoral masque, or serenade, based on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which has its origins in a private entertainment?

Oriana, Fairest Queen: Stile Antico celebrate the life and times of Elizabeth I

Stile Antico’s lunchtime play-list, celebrating the Virgin Queen’s long reign, shuffled between sacred and secular works, from penitential to patriotic, from sensual to celebratory.

Daniel Kramer's new La traviata at English National Opera

Verdi's La traviata is one of those opera which every opera company needs to have in its repertoire, and productions need to balance intelligent exploration of the issues raised by the work with the need to reach as wide an audience as possible with an opera which is likely to attract audience members who are not regular opera-goers.

Haydn's Applausus: The Mozartists at Cadogan Hall

Continuing their MOZART 250 series, The Mozartists/ Classical Opera began dipping into the operatic offerings of 1768 at Wigmore Hall in January, when they presented numbers from Mozart’s La finta semplice, Jommelli’s Fetonte, Hasse’s Pirano e Tisbe and Haydn’s Lo speziale.

Schubert Schwanengesang revisited—Florian Boesch, Wigmore Hall

Schwanengesang isn't Schubert's Swan Song any more than it is a cycle like Die schöne Müllerin or Winterreise. The title was given it by his publishers Haslingers, after his death, combining settings of two very different poets, Ludwig Rellstab and Heinrich Heine. Wigmore Hall audiences have heard lots of good Schwanengesangs, including Boesch and Martineau performances in the past, but this was something special.

Rinaldo: The English Concert at the Barbican Hall

“After such cruel events, I don’t know if I am dreaming or awake.” So says Almirena, daughter of the Crusader Goffredo, when she is rescued by her beloved warrior-hero, Rinaldo, from the clutches of the evil sorceress, Armida.

Hamlet abridged and enriched in Amsterdam

French grand opera and small opera companies are an unlikely combination. Yet OPERA2DAY, a company of modest means, is currently touring the Netherlands with Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas.

The ROH's first production of From the House of the Dead

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s production for the ROH of From the House of the Dead is ‘new’ in several regards. It’s (astonishingly) the first time that Janáček’s last opera has been staged at Covent Garden; it’s Warlikowski’s debut at Covent Garden; and the production uses a new 2017 critical edition prepared by John Tyrrell.

Così fan tutte at Lyric Opera of Chicago

With artifice, disguise, and questions on fidelity as the basis of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the composer’s mature opera has returned to the stage at Lyric Opera of Chicago.

WNO's Wheel of Destiny rolls into Birmingham

Welsh National Opera’s wheel of destiny has rolled into Birmingham this week, with Verdi’s sprawling tragedy, La forza del destino, opening the company’s ‘Rabble Rousing’ triptych at the Hippodrome.

A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Royal College of Music

The gossamer web of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sufficiently insubstantial and ambiguous to embrace multiple interpretative readings: the play can be a charming comic caper, a jangling journey through human pettiness and cruelty, a moonlit fairy fantasy or a shadowy erotic nightmare, and much more besides.

Robert Carsen's A Midsummer Night's Dream returns to ENO

Having given us Christopher Alden's strangely dystopic production of Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2011, English National Opera (ENO) has opted for Robert Carsen's bed-inspired vision for the latest revival of the opera at the London Coliseum.

Turandot in San Diego—Prima la voce

The big musical set pieces in Turandot require voice, voice, and more voice, and San Diego Opera has gifted us with a world-class cast of singing actors.

Dialogues de Carmélites at the Guildhall School: spiritual transcendence and transfiguration

Four years have passed since my last Dialogues des Carmélites, and on that occasion - Robert Carsen’s production for the ROH - heightened dramatic intensity, revolutionary insurrection (enhanced by an oppressed populace formed by a 67-strong Community Ensemble) and, under the baton of Simon Rattle, luxuriant musical rapture, were the order of the day.

'B & B’ in a new key

Seattle Opera’s new production of Béatrice et Bénédict is best regarded as a noble experiment, performed expressly to see if Berlioz’ delectable 1862 opéra comique can successfully be brought into the living repertory outside its native France. As such, it is quite a success.

Of Animals and Insects: a musical menagerie at Wigmore Hall

Wigmore Hall was transformed into a musical menagerie earlier this week, when bass-baritone Ashley Riches, a Radio 3 New Generation Artist, and pianist Joseph Middleton took us on a pan-European lunchtime stroll through a gallery of birds and beasts, blooms and bugs.



Leoš Janácek: The Cunning Little Vixen [Chautauqua Opera]
30 Jul 2008

Foxy Chautauqua

I discovered many delights in my first ever visit to the Chautauqua Opera, not least of which was the lovely environment of the hilly Chautauqua Institution grounds which are dotted with picturesque and inviting old frame houses.

Leoš Janácek: The Cunning Little Vixen

Vixen (Sari Gruber), Forrester (Philip Cokorinos), Fox (Elizabeth Pojanowski) and Harasta (Seth Carico). Chautauqua Opera, Ari Pelto (cond.)


And then there is the beautiful lake itself of the same name, the nearby charming town of Mayville, and the less charming Jamestown, which is nonetheless the birthplace of Lucille Ball and has given itself over to All Things Lucy, including two Lucy-Desi “museums.”

But checking out the opera was my top priority here and “The Cunning Little Vixen” did not disappoint, offering high quality lyric drama for about fifty bucks, less than half the cost of the best seats at other well known American summer festivals. Like those other festivals, Chautauqua has an established young artists program to help train singers as they embark on a career. Based on the quality of this summer’s ensemble, the future of opera is quite secure.

From this group of Apprentice Artists, kudos must go to Ryan Kuster, whose solid bass was deployed in outstanding service to his portrayal of the conflicted “Father Aloysius;” pleasant lyric tenor Vernon Di Carlo who was by turns self-assured and self-pitying as the “Schoolmaster;” and most especially the dynamic presence of Seth Carico, whose ringing baritone gave much pleasure as “Hypolit Harast,” aka the poacher.

Indeed, all of the minor roles were well taken with the three “Sunflowers” very well sung by Maria Fasciano, Lee Heinz, and Jennifer Hsiung. Amanda Tarver had personality, poise and a sound (slightly howling) take on “Lapaf, the Forester’s Dog.” All of the “Hens”-too- numerous-to-mention were charmingly done, laying their eggs comically and magically without a theatrical hitch, and dying on their backs with legs held up (very good for the thighs!) as the titular vixen offs them one by one.

But the whole show was cast from strength, starting with Sari Gruber as “Sharp-Ears, the Vixen.” My past several happy experiences with this wonderful soprano were now joined by this vibrant portrayal which featured a cleanly focused sound, ever secure musicality, and a thorough understanding of the role’s dramatic journey. If I found myself perhaps wanting a more silvery sheen in the introspective passages and on the floated high notes, well, small matter. This was a performance that would be welcome on any world stage.

In the all-important courtship scene, she was so ably partnered by the beautifully limpid singing from Apprentice Artist Elizabeth Pojanowksi (“Golden Mane, the Fox”) that it seemed a pity Janacek did not give her more to sing. She already possesses a luminous voice and presence, and she contributed affecting phrasing which ably complemented Ms. Gruber. While I did feel that the vocal technique is not yet quite “finished,” time and experience should ensure a good future for this appealing young mezzo.

This engaging pair was matched, and arguably surpassed by a tremendous performance from Philip Cokorinos as “Bartos, the Forester.” Mr. Cokorinos’ rolling, commanding baritone; his heartfelt outpouring of thoroughly internalized text; and his sympathetic demeanor didn’t just merely touch me, but rather became the heart of the piece, making the opera work for me in a way that no previous mounting had.

Ron Kadri’s set design worked much better than it looked. The basic structure featured a raised upstage platform that spanned the width of the stage, with a set of rustic stairs to stage level on each side. The rake allowed for characters to “disappear” in a shallow pit upstage between the stairs. Wooden cutout trees were tracked to open up the stage or trim it in, and other simple inserts were flown-rolled-carried in seamlessly as needed.

This was all so functional and appropriate, affording good blocking opportunities using levels and varied traffic patterns, that I wished that it had been painted with more care and detail. I just didn’t want it to look so. . .flat, but rather as fanciful as the clever and (mostly) colorful costumes by Nancy Leary. A highly important element to the look of the show was Georgianna Eberhard’s wig and make-up design which was evocative without being gratuitously over the top.

Mr. Kadri was superbly abetted by lighting designer Christopher Ostrom especially in such inventions as the large moon revealed by sliding panels up center, which incorporated a silhouette effect that was particularly haunting. There were simple gobos and isolated spots throughout that greatly enhanced the production. The white circular ground cloth to indicate the winter was augmented by atmospheric lighting and a falling snow, providing all the ambiance that was required.

Budget considerations may have mandated these scenic solutions, and certainly there was nothing about this economical design that was self-indulgent. Nonetheless there were many witty touches. One such example: the “Vixen,” having killed the chickens and having subsequently displaced the “Badger” from his lair, tears down the ratty cloth covering his seedy digs and replaces it with a wildly colorful drape with cartoon images of . ..chickens!

Jay Lesenger, the Artistic and General Director of Chautauqua Opera directed cleanly, and he was well served by the simple choreography devised by Maris Battaglia. Generally there were excellent character relationships developed with well motivated movement that served all the physical action required by the concise libretto, although there were a few slack lapses when characters were left standing and the time was not filled meaningfully until the characters came back to life as they sang again.

I had a little problem with the concept of the “animal” movement. Remember the classic “Far Side” where the cows are standing upright in a field until one of them yells “Car!”? The next frame shows them on all fours chomping hay, assuming a role for the benefit of the passing motorists. That is sort of how I felt here as the animals sometimes crawled on all fours, or hippity-hopped in crouching positions with “paws” extended, but more often than not they just stood up and walked around. I would have favored more of the latter approach.

Too, for all of the cleanliness of the choreography for the young (grade school to HS age) animal extras, “cute” was milked a bit too much. Of necessity, there was a simplicity and repetition in the steps that verged on being a very well-rehearsed youth dance studio recital, or school pageant. Still, such touches as having the “Little Foxes” (pace Lillian Hellman) poke their heads up one by one in turn over the lip of the upstage rake warmed my heart, and the entire pace of the entrance and exits, and overall traffic management of this large cast was meticulous.

Conductor Ari Pelto led a taut, rakish, and (at the right times) sentimental reading of this tricky score in a sanctioned orchestral arrangement by Jonathon Dove for nineteen players that features only six strings, winds and brass, percussion, accordion and synthesizer. This was a very interesting sound, bordering at times on Kurt Weill. What it gained in bite and tension, it sacrificed in lyric power for the soaring themes, and dramatic punctuation for scene endings. Indeed, the final stinging notes of the night were tamer than required.

The pared-down version also makes even more demands than usual on what is now a group of soloists. While the players were called upon for virtuoso playing and mostly met that call, there were a few spots of smudgy phrases in the exposed strings and some slightly dodgy overall intonation especially in the block chords periodically assigned to the horns/trombone. I must mention however, that it was extremely hot, which would certainly have further challenged these fine instrumentalists.

This production marked the stage premiere of the English translation by David Pountney. The excellent diction by all made a good case for this colloquial, hip, irreverent, and accessible stage version.

Overall then, how delightful to encounter such an enjoyable festival experience, and to find renewed joy in a familiar piece with Chautauqua Opera’s high quality mounting of “The Cunning Little Vixen,” cunningly staged and winningly performed.

James Sohre

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):