Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Katia Kabanova in Toulon

Káťa Kabanová is, they say, Janáček's first mature opera — it comes a mere 20 years after his masterpiece, Jenůfa.

Peter Grimes in Nice

Nice’s golden winter light is not that of England’s North Sea coast. Nonetheless the Opéra de Nice’s new production of Peter Grimes did much to take us there.

Guillaume Tell in Monaco

Peasants revolt in a sea of Maserati and Ferrari’s.

LA Opera Presents Figaro 90210

Figaro 90210 is Vid Guerrerio’s modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo DaPonte’s 1786 opera, The Marriage of Figaro.

Tristan und Isolde at the Wiener Staatsoper

David McVicar’s production of Wagner’s seminal music drama runs aground on the Cornish coast.

Songs of Night and Travel, Wigmore Hall

The coming of ‘Night’ brings darkness, shadows and mystery; sleep, dreams and nightmares; fancies, fantasies and passions.

Andrea Chénier, Royal Opera

Umberto’s Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, now at the Royal Opera House, is no more about history than Jesus Christ Superstar is about theology.

Yevgeny Onegin in Warsaw

Mariusz Treliński’s staging of Tchaikovsky’s operatic masterpiece is visually fascinating but psychologically confusing

Orfeo at the Roundhouse, Royal Opera

The regal trumpets and sackbuts sound their bold herald and, followed by admiring eyes, the powers of state and church begin their dignified procession along a sloping walkway to assume their lofty positions upon the central dais.

Idomeneo in Montpellier

Vestiges of a momentous era . . .

L’elisir d’amore in Marseille

There were hints that L’elisir is one of the great bel canto masterpieces.

Das Liebesverbot opens the new season at Teatro Verdi in Trieste

Aron Stiehl’s production of this rare early Wagner opera cheerfully brings commedia dell’arte to La Cage aux Folles.

Amsterdam: Lohengrin Lite

Stage director Pierre Audi is not one to be strictly representational in his story telling.

Fidelio, Manitoba Opera

For the first time in its 42-year history, Manitoba Opera presented Beethoven’s mighty ode to freedom, Fidelio, with an extraordinary production that resonated as loudly as tolling bells of freedom.

The Hilliard Ensemble: Farewell Concert at Wigmore Hall

Forty-one years is a long time for any partnership to be sustained and to flourish — be it musical, commercial or marital! And, given The Hilliard Ensemble’s ongoing reputation as one of the world’s finest a cappella groups, noted for their performances of works dating from the 11 th century to the present day, it must have been a tough decision to call an end to more than four decades of superlative music-making.

Fidelio opens new season at La Scala

Daniel Barenboim makes a triumphant departure as direttore musicale del Teatro alla Scala with Beethoven’s operatic masterpiece.

Mahler Songs: Christian Gerhaher, Wigmore Hall

Star singer and star composer, a combination guaranteed to bring in the fans. Christian Gerhaher sang Mahler at the Wigmore Hall with Gerold Huber. Gerhaher shot to fame when he sang Wolfram at the Royal Opera House Tannhäuser in 2010.

Modernity vanquished? Verdi Un ballo in maschera, Royal Opera House, London

Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House — a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems.

La Traviata in Ljubljana Slovenia

Small country, small opera house — big ensemble spirit. Internationally acclaimed soprano Natalia Ushakova steps in for indisposed local Violetta with mixed results.

Otello in Bucharest — Moor’s the pity

Bulgarian director Vera Nemirova’s production of Otello for the Romanian National Opera in Bucharest was certainly full of new ideas — unfortunately all bad.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Emma Matthews as Vixen Sharp-Ears and Marnie Carr as Hare [Photo by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera House]
21 Mar 2010

The Cunning Little Vixen, London

An enchanting evening at Covent Garden:

Leoš Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen (sung in English)

Vixen Sharp-Ears: Emma Matthews: Gamekeeper: Christopher Maltman; Fox: Elisabeth Meister; Schoolmaster/Mosquito: Robin Leggate; Gamekeeper’s Wife/Owl: Madeleine Shaw; Priest/Badger: Jeremy White; Harašta: Matthew Rose; Innkeeper’s Wife: Elisabeth Sikora; Pásek: Alasdair Elliott; Pepík: Simona Mihai; Frantík: Elizabeth Cragg; Rooster/Jay: Deborah Peake-Jones; Dachshund: Gerald Thompson; Forester’s Wife: Madeleine Shaw; Cricket: Peter Shafran; Caterpillar: Talo Hanson (front), Korey Knight (back); Young Vixen: Eleanor Burke; Blue Dragonfly: Tom Sapsford; Spirit of the Vixen: Lyn Routledge; Chief Hen: Glenys Groves; Woodpecker: Amanda Floyd; Hare: Marnie Carr; Flies, Foxcubs, Other Children, Dancers. Director: Bill Bryden; Designs: William Dudley; Lighting: Paule Constable; Movement: Stuart Hopps. Royal Opera Chorus (chorus master: Renato Balsadonna); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Sir Charles Mackerras (conductor). Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, Friday 19 March 2010.

Above: Emma Matthews as Vixen Sharp-Ears and Marnie Carr as Hare

All photos by Johan Persson courtesy of The Royal Opera House

 

what with this and The Gambler, things seem to be looking up, following a dispiriting spell in the Christof Loy doldrums. Indeed, the theatrical and musical magic woven here could not stand further removed from the pretentious dreariness inflicted upon new productions of Lulu and Tristan und Isolde. Bill Bryden’s production of The Cunning Little Vixen was first staged in 1990 but, twenty years on, it is yet to look tired. For this, William Dudley’s designs deserve a great deal of credit. There is to action and staging a crucial sense of life, in all its complexity, never more ambiguous than when it is apparently straightforward. The life-cycle, human or animal — should the distinction even be made? — is the guiding force, in every sense, of Janáček’s drama, and so, appropriately enough, one sees a huge circle on stage, which provides a treadmill for walking as well as a frame in which the first act’s acrobatic ‘Spirit of the Vixen’ may swing. Here, form is wondrously imparted to the Vixen’s dream, both for the eye and the ear. Humour, arguably more immediate, if less idiomatic, when sung in English, was present too, for instance in the portrayal of the clannish farmyard hens, large and contented, unable to heed the Vixen’s siren-voice of feminist revolt. It is, however, the interplay between wondrous machinery and Nature that penetrates to the very heart of the opera. This both highlighted such relationships in the score and put me in mind of another Royal Opera production: David McVicar’s Magic Flute — never more magical than when heard under Sir Colin Davis (available on DVD). Lighting (Paule Johnson), colours, and scenery ensure that Nature is present, overflowing in her abundance, without being domesticated or prettified; for there is wildness aplenty in Janáček’s score, and this must be reflected in the action.

VIXEN-2010_00529-FORESTER&PRIEST&SCHOOLMASTER-(C)PERSSON.png(Left to Right) Christopher Maltman as Forester, Jeremy White as Priest and Robin Leggate as Schoolmaster

It must, of course, above all be expressed by the orchestra, and so it was here. The name of Sir Charles Mackerras is so indelibly associated with Janáček’s music that one might take for granted his excellence. However, I doubt that even the most jaded listener — note that one must listen, rather than passively consume — could have done so in this case. The angularities of Janáček’s score, so often ironed out by conductors not so intimately attuned to the idiom, were immediate and telling, but they were always integrated into a longer line, never aggressive, let alone exhibitionistic, for their own sake: the opposing temptation to smoothing out. Equally apparent, and again never merely for their own sake, were the ravishing beauties of the score’s extraordinary sound-world — extraordinary even by Janáček’s standards. One example would be that utterly characteristic high string sound, split into several parts, which one might be tempted to call Straussian, but which is in reality quite different, if anything more akin to the Schoenberg of Gurrelieder. (Janáček was greatly interested in the music of the Second Viennese School.) Building of climaxes was masterly, above all in the great, pantheistic conclusion, so redolent, or rather prophetic, of the Glagolitic Mass. Life goes on, yet is transformed, transfigured. Tension had sagged slightly, I thought, both on stage and in the musical performance, during the first half of the third act, but this conclusion certainly compensated. As Sir Charles’s aforementioned knighted colleague sounds so effortlessly right in Mozart, so does Mackerras in Janáček. How odd, then, that this was the first time he had conducted the work at Covent Garden, though not quite so odd as the fact that Bryden’s production has no predecessors in the house. (Having said that, The Cunning Little Vixen received its Paris premiere as recently as 2008, and then in a production borrowed from Lyons.)

VIXEN-2010_01133-PRODUCTION IMAGE-(C)PERSSON.pngA scene from The Cunning Little Vixen

If Mackerras and the orchestra, which throughout played superlatively, a match for any other ensemble, were the brightest stars in the firmament, then they were ably supported by much of the cast. Most impressive of all was Christopher Maltman, whose Forester grew in stature, as he should, as the work progressed. The final transfiguration was as much his as the natural world’s. Elisabeth Meister, a Jette Paker Young Artist, had originally been slated to sing the roles of the Rooster and the Jay, but had to replace Emma Bell at very short notice, the latter having been rushed to hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Meister proved a winning replacement, moving in her love for the Vixen: an anthropomorphic fantasy, maybe, but an irresistible one. Sadly, Emma Matthews brought no especial individuality to the title role, though she did nothing especially wrong either. Many of the smaller roles, however, were sharply etched, most memorably Matthew Rose’s poacher, Harašta, Robin Leggate’s lovelorn Schoolmaster, and Jeremy White, both as priest and badger. The children, drawn from various London schools, did not disappoint either.

Performance in English did not disconcert me as much as I had feared. There is loss, of course, in terms of the music’s relationship to the language’s speech-rhythms, but this registered less than it had during ENO’s Katya Kabanova earlier in the week. Perhaps it was a better translation; there was certainly more opportunity, often very well taken, for wit. Banking jokes may be easy, but sometimes we should be grateful for any weapon we have. One gripe though: why start at 8 p.m.? It made no especial difference to me, but a 7.30 start would have been of help to those who had to travel out of London, or who simply wished to dine a little earlier. Such practical reservations should not detract, however, from a triumphant return to form for the Royal Opera.

The Cunning Little Vixen will be broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on Saturday 15 May at 6 p.m.

Mark Berry

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):