Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Glyndebourne Festival Opera at the Proms

For its annual visit to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, Glyndebourne brought its new production of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia, an opera which premiered 200 years ago.

Béatrice and Bénédict at Glyndebourne

‘A caprice written with the point of a needle’: so Berlioz described his opera Béatrice and Bénédict, which pares down Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing to its comic quintessence, shorn of the sub-plots, destroyed reputations and near-bloodshed of Shakespeare’s original.

Der fliegende Holländer, Bavarian State Opera

‘This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.’ It is, perhaps, a line quoted too often; yet, even though it may not have been entirely accurate on this occasion, it came to my mind. Its accuracy might be questioned in several respects.

Evergreen Baby in Colorado

Central City Opera celebrated the 60th anniversary of The Ballad of Baby Doe with a hip, canny, multi-faceted new production.

Lean and Mean Tosca in Colorado

Someone forgot to tell Central City Opera that it would be difficult to fit Puccini’s (usually) architecturally large Tosca on their small stage.

Die Walküre, Baden-Baden

A cast worthy of Bayreuth made for an unforgettable Wagnerian experience at the Sommer Festspiele in Baden-Baden.

Des Moines’ Elusive Manon

Loving attention to the highest quality was everywhere evident in Des Moines Metro Opera’s Manon.

Falstaff in Iowa: A Big Fat Hit

Des Moines Metro Opera had (almost) all the laughs in the right places, and certainly had all the right singers in these meaty roles to make for an enjoyable outing with Verdi’s masterpiece

Die Fledermaus, Opera Holland Park

With the thermometers reaching boiling point, there’s no doubt that summer has finally arrived in London. But, the sun seems to have been shining over the large marquee in Holland Park all summer.

Nice, July 14, and then . . .

J.S. Bach’s cerebral Art of the Fugue in Aix, Verdi’s massive Requiem in Orange, Ibn al-Muqaffa’ ‘s fable of the camel, jackal, wolf and crow, Sophocles’ blind Oedipus Rex and the Bible’s triumphant Psalm No. 150 in Aix.

Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance

The champagne corks popped at the close of this year’s Jette Parker Young Artists Summer Performance at the Royal Opera House, with Prince Orlofsky’s celebratory toast forming a fitting conclusion to some superb singing.

Prom 2: Boris Godunov, ROH

Bryn Terfel is making a habit of performing Russian patriarchs at the Proms.

Des Moines’ Gluck Sets the Standard

What happens when just everything about an operatic performance goes joyously right?

Des Moines: Jewels in Perfect Settings

Two years ago, the well-established Des Moines Metro Opera experimented with a 2nd Stages program, with performances programmed outside of their home stage at Simpson College.

First Night of the Proms 2016

What to make of the unannounced decision to open this concert with the Marseillaise? I am sure it was well intended, and perhaps should leave it at that.

La Cenerentola, Opera Holland Park

In a fairy-tale, it can sometimes feel as if one is living a dream but on the verge of being awoken to a shock. Such is life in these dark and uncertain days.

Il trionfo del tempo e del disinganno in Aix

The tense, three hour knock-down-drag-out seduction of Beauty by Pleasure consumed our souls in this triumphal evening. Forget Time and Disillusion as destructors, they were the very constructors of the beauty and pleasure found in this miniature oratorio.

Pelleas et Mélisande in Aix

Three parallel universes (before losing count) — the ephemeral Debussy/Maeterlinck masterpiece, the Debussy symphonic tone poem, and the twisted intricacies of a moldy, parochially English country estate.

Siegfried, Opera North

This, alas, was where I had to sign off. A weekend conference on Parsifal (including, on the Saturday, a showing of Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s Parsifal film) mean that I missed Götterdämmerung, skipping straight to the sequel.

Götterdämmerung, Opera North

The culmination of Opera North’s “Ring for Everyone”, this Götterdämmerung showed the power of the condensed movement so necessary in a staged performance - each gesture of each character was perfectly judged - as well as the visceral power of having Wagner’s huge orchestra on stage as opposed to the pit.

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):