Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.







Recently in Reviews

The Barber of Seville, ENO London

This may be the twelfth revival of Jonathan Miller’s 1987production of Rossini’s The Barber of Seville for English National Opera, but the ready laughter from the auditorium and the fresh musical and dramatic responses from the stage suggest that it will continue to amuse audiences and serve the house well for some time to come.

Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, Bostridge, Barbican London

The third and final instalment of the Academy of Ancient Music’s survey of Monteverdi’s operas at the Barbican began and ended in darkness; the red glow of the single candle was an apt visual frame for a performance which was dedicated to the memory of the late Andrew Porter, the music critic and writer whose learned, pertinent and eloquent words did so much to restore Monteverdi, Cavalli and other neglected music-dramatists to the operatic stage.

English Touring Opera - Debussy, Massenet and Offenbach

English Touring Opera’s recent programming has been ambitious and inventive, and the results have been rewarding. We had two little-known Donizetti operas, The Siege of Calais and The Wild Man of the West Indies, in spring 2015, while autumn 2014 saw the company stage comedy by Haydn (Il mondo della luna) and romantic history by Handel (Ottone).

“Nessun Dorma — The Puccini Album”

Sounds swirl with an urgent emotionality and meandering virtuosity on Jonas Kaufmann’s new Puccini album—the “real one”, according to Kaufmann, whose works were also released earlier this year on Decca records, allegedly without his approval.

Verismo Double Header in Los Angeles

LA Opera got its season off to an auspicious beginning with starry revivals of Gianni Schicchi and Pagliacci.

Viva Verdi at Opera Las Vegas

On September 9, 2015, Opera Las Vegas presented James Sohre’s production of Viva Verdi at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. It was a delightful evening of arias, duets and ensembles by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). The program included many of the composer’s blockbuster arias and scenes from famous operas such as Aida, La traviata, and Macbeth.

Barbera Sings a Fascinating Recital in San Diego

On Saturday, September 19, San Diego Opera opened its 2015-2016 season with a recital by tenor René Barbera. This was the first Polly Puterbaugh Emerging Artist Award Recital and no artist could have been more deserving than the immensely talented Barbera.

Wigmore Hall Complete Schubert Song Series begins with Boesch and Johnson

The Wigmore Hall, London, has launched Schubert : The Complete Songs, a 40-concert series to run through the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There have been Schubert marathons before, like BBC Radio 3's all-Schubert week and The Oxford Lieder Festival's Schubert series last year, but the Wigmore Hall series will be a major landmark because the Wigmore Hall is the Wigmore Hall, the epitome of excellence.

Honegger: Jeanne d’Arc au bûcher

Marion Cotillard and Marc Soustrot bring the drama to the sweeping score of Arthur Honegger’s Jeanne dArc au bûcher, an adaptation of the Trial of Joan of Arc

Luisa Miller in San Francisco

Luisa Miller sits on the fringes of the repertory, and since its introduction into the modern repertory in the 1970’s it comes around every 15 or so years. Unfortunately this 2015 San Francisco occasion has not bothered to rethink this remarkable opera.

Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio (Trofonio’s Cave)

Demonised by Pushkin and Peter Shaffer, Antonio Salieri lives in the public imagination as the embittered rival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — whose genius he lamented and revered in equal measure, and against whom he schemed and plotted at the Emperor Joseph II’s Viennese court.

Chicago Lyric’s Stars Shine at Millennium Park

The annual concert given by Lyric Opera of Chicago as an outdoor event previewing the forthcoming season took place on 11 September 2015 at Millennium Park.

Far in the Heavens — Choral Music of Stephen Paulus

Stephen Paulus provided the musical world, and particularly the choral world, with music both provocative and pleasing through a combination of lyricism and a modern-Romantic tonal palette.

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orpheus — that Greek hero whose songs could enchant both deities and beasts, whose lyre has become a metaphor for the power of music itself, and whose journey to the Underworld to rescue his wife, Eurydice, kick-started the art of opera in Mantua in 1607 — has been travelling far and wide around the UK in 2015.

Vaughan Williams and Holst Double Bill

One is a quasi-verbatim rendering of J.M. Synge’s bleak tale of a Donegal family’s fateful dependency on and submission to the deathly power of the sea.

Iestyn Davies at Wigmore Hall

Is there anything that countertenor Iestyn Davies cannot do with his voice?

Prom 75: The Dream of Gerontius

BBC Proms Youth Choir shines in a performance notable for its magical transparency

Prom 67: Bernstein — Stage and Screen

The John Wilson Orchestra have been annual summer visitors to the Royal Albert Hall since their Proms debut in 2009 and, with their seductive blend of technical precision, buoyant glitziness and relaxed insouciance, their concerts have become a hugely anticipated fixture and a sure highlight of the Promenade season.

Prom 65: Alice Coote sings Handel

Disappointing staging mars Alice Coote’s vibrant if wayward musical performance

Santa Fe: Secondary Mozart in First Rate Staging

Impresario Boris Goldovsky famously referred to La finta giardiniera as The Phony Farmerette.



Lucy Crowe as Vixen Sharp Ears. [Photo by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2012]
30 May 2012

Glyndebourne Janáček The Cunning Little Vixen

Glyndebourne’s 2012 season started in great style with Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen. Its rapturous reception would suggest that this could become a Glyndebourne perennial.

Leoš Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen

Forester: Sergei Leiferkus; Vixen (Bystrouška): Lucy Crowe; Fox: Emma Bell; Parson / Badger: Mischa Schelomianski; Harašta, a poacher: William Dazeley; Forester's Wife / Owl: Jean Rigby: Schoolmaster / Mosquito: Adrian Thompson; Pásek: Innkeeper: Colin Judson; Innkeeper’s Wife: Sarah Pring. Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski. The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Glyndebourne Chorus. Director: Melly Still. Set Designer: Tom Pye. Costume Designer: Dinah Collin. Lighting designer: Paule Constable. Choreographer: Maxine Doyle. Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Lewes, Sussex. 20th May 2012.

Above: Lucy Crowe as Vixen Sharp Ears.

Photos by Bill Cooper courtesy of Glyndebourne Festival 2012.


Inspired by a novella illustrated by cartoons, the story of Vixen Sharp Ears has great charm. The production glows with gorgeous colours, on stage and in the pit. Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra with lustrous style: you can hear the “birds” in the score, feel the sunshine and thrill to the starlit night sky in the final scene.

teacher_bill_cooper.gifAdrian Thompson as The Schoolmaster

The Cunning Little Vixen is about nature, but it’s not naturalistic. Janáček observed nature closely, but doesn’t write about animals so much as about human nature. Thus the intense gemstone colours of Tom Pye’s designs dazzle gloriously. Like the World Ash Tree in Wagner’s Ring, a huge construction looms over the stage. It’s a tree which changes with the seasons : spring blossom, autumn golds, bare winter branches. Since one of the themes in this opera is the passing of time, the tree is a natural metaphor. There’s a slide behind it from which animals pop up and observe. Later, it’s shown as the lair in which the foxes live. This vividness reflects Jurowski’s approach to the music. Although Jurowski softens the sharper edges of Janáček’s idiom, he creates surges so lush that he brings out the vigorous life force that’s fundamental to the meaning of this opera. The Vixen dies, the Forester grows old, but nature renews itself each year, and the grandchildren of foxes and frogs continue the cycle of life.

“Kontrapunkte, Kontrapunkte”, the Forester (Sergei Leiferkus) tells the Schoolmaster (Adrian Thompson) He’s explaining that the dry old schoolmaster’s not right for a woman like Terinka. It’s a wry joke, not something a woodsman would say, but a composer might. Perhaps Janáček identified with the Schoolmaster, withering away without love. Significantly, he found new creative momentum in old age, when he met Camila Stösslová. Janáček is quite explicit about what makes the sap rise in human beings. “How many children do we have, dear?” asks the Fox of the Vixen. “We’ll make many more”.

vixenfox_bill_cooper.gifLucy Crowe as Vixen Sharp Ears and Emma Bell as Fox

In this production, one of the finest scenes is the one where the Fox (Emma Bell) courts the Vixen (Lucy Crowe), just as a formal, old-fashioned formal couple might have done in Janáček’s youth. “May I call upon you?” he asks, and she responds coyly. Very decorous. Animals don’t beat around the bush like that. Janáček then becomes even more daring. “Do you smoke?” asks the Fox. Is the Vixen A Modern Woman, emacipated like Stösslová, and not domesticated like Zdenka, the composer’s wife? The Vixen lives independently (in a treehouse inherited from “Uncle Badger” (Mischa Schelomianski). “My ideal woman!” cries the Fox. There are cryptic personal meanings in The Cunning Little Vixen which can easily be missed. Please see my piece “Janáček, Cunning Vixen and Subversion”. The scene isn’t heavily scored, so the words carry weight and Jurowski lets them be heard clearly, Then, when the mood shifts, orchestral textures become more dense, even sinister. Listen for the triumphant finale, which could be sheer Hollywood (though it was written long before film had sound). As life ebbs from the Forester’s body, his spirit breaks free. You can imagine Janáček joyfully defying convention. The Forester doesn’t die with “The Old Woman”, his wife (Jean Rigby) but with the spirit of the Vixen and her wild ways.

Sergei Leiferkus’s Forester is outstanding, created with real vigour. He’s of course an extremely experienced singer, but he’s also a strong actor with a wonderful sense of humour. He does Shostakovich satires with panache. In 2010, he sang Edward German’s Who were the Yeomen of England at the reconstruction of a 1910 Prom. He sang with a heavy accent, but with such glee that it felt more sincere than any dour, irony-free performance. Adrian Thomnpson, as the Schoolmaster/Mosquito, was sadly underused. He can sing Czech better than most Englishmen, and has done a lot of Janáček. He deserves a higher profile. Lucy Crowe as The Vixen was clear. pert and spirited, as a good Vixen should be.

This Glyndebourne Cunning Little Vixen is great entertainment, and orchestrally rewarding. It’s let down, however, by direction that’s less incisive. While Janáček defines the roles vividly, Melly Still turns characters into caricatures. Dressing humans as animals is almost as tricky as dressing animals as humans. From time to time, the cast move like animals, but that’s not enough. The focus should be on who the animals really represent. Partly the problem lies in the costumes (Dinah Collin) which make it hard to realise who’s who unless you’ve read the synopsis.

forester_wife_bill_cooper.gifSergei Leiferkus as The Forester and Jean Rigby as his wife

But the bigger problem is that the parts are given no personality. The weakest scene in this production occurs in the hen coop where the Vixen tries to get the chickens to rebel against male dominance. It can be literally “red of claw and tooth” because the Vixen tears the Cock apart. Here, though, it’s so tame you could miss it among the busy babble going round the stage. The dancers are nice, but they don’t add much. Yet the Cock, Hens and The Dog are all crucial to the deeper meaning of this opera. Even the Vixen isn’t well developed. When the Vixen discovers the mystery of sex, poor Lucy Crowe pushes up her blouse in an unsubtle attempt to look “sexy”. Yet what Janáček has been telling us all along is that nature is instinct, not appearance, and that instincts win. When these darker, more radical aspects of the opera aren’t defined, The Cunning Little Vixen loses its bite. And what is a Vixen without fangs?

This production will be broadcast online on 10th June. On film, it might be a better experience. A film director could focus on essentials, and give the characters more definition than the stage director.

For more details, please visit the Glyndebourne website.

Anne Ozorio

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):