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

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

Verdi Un ballo in maschera at the Royal Opera House - a masked ball in every sense, where nothing is quite what it seems. On the surface, this new production appears quaint and undemanding. It uses painted flats, for example, pulled back and forth across, as in toy theatre. The scenes painted on them are vaguely generic, depicting neither Boston nor Stockholm, where the tale supposedly takes place. Instead, we focus on Verdi, and on theatre practices of the past. In other words, opera as the art of illusion, not an attempt to replicate reality. Take this production too literally and you'll miss the wit and intelligence behind it.

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.

Il trovatore at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its current revival of the 2006-2007 production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Il trovatore by Sir David McVicar Lyric Opera has assembled a talented quintet of principal singers whose strengths match this conception of the opera.

Schubert’s Winterreise by Matthias Goerne

This Winterreise is the final instalment of Matthias Goerne’s series of Schubert lieder for Harmonia Mundi and it brings the Matthias Goerne Schubert Edition, begun in 2008, to a dark, harrowing close.

Mary, Queen of Heaven, Wigmore Hall

O Maria Deo grata — ‘O Mary, pleasing to God’: so begins Robert Fayrfax’s antiphon, one of several supplications to the Virgin Mary presented in this thought-provoking concert by The Cardinall’s Musick at the Wigmore Hall.

Analyzed not demonized — Tristan und Isolde, Royal Opera House

Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde at the Royal Opera House, first revival of the 2009 production, one of the first to attract widespread hostility even before the curtain rose on the first night.

Florencia in el Amazonas Makes Triumphant Return to LA

On November 22, 2014, Los Angeles Opera staged Francesca Zambello’s updated version of Florencia in el Amazonas.

John Adams: The Gospel According to the Other Mary

John Adams and his long-standing collaborator Peter Sellars have described The Gospel According to the Other Mary as a ‘Passion oratorio’.

A new Yevgeny Onegin in Zagreb — Prince Gremin’s Fabulous Pool Party

Superb conducting from veteran Croatian maestro Nikša Bareza makes up for an absurd waterlogged new production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.

Nabucco in Novi Sad

After the horrors of Jagoš Marković’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro in Belgrade, I was apprehensive lest Nabucco in Serbia’s second city of Novi Sad on 27th October would be transplanted from 6th century BC Babylon to post-Saddam Hussein Tikrit or some bombed-out kibbutz in Beersheba.

La Bohème in San Francisco

First Toronto, then Houston and now San Francisco, the third stop of a new production of Puccini's La bohème by Canadian born, British nurtured theater director John Caird.

Radvanovsky Sings Recital in Los Angeles

Every once in a while Los Angeles Opera presents an important recital in the three thousand seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

L’elisir d’amore, Royal Opera

This third revival of Laurent Pelly’s production of Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore needed a bit of a pep up to get moving but once it had been given a shot of ‘medicinal’ tincture things spiced up nicely.

Samling Showcase, Wigmore Hall

Founded in 1996, Samling describes itself as a charity which ‘inspires musical excellence in young people’.

La cenerentola in San Francisco

The good news is that you don’t have to go all the way to Pesaro for great Rossini.

Rameau: Maître à danser — William Christie, Barbican London

Maître à danser: William Christie and Les Arts Florissants at the Barbican, London, presented a defining moment in Rameau performance practice, choreographed with a team of dancers.

Le Nozze di Figaro — or Sex on the Beach?

The most memorable thing (and definitely not in a good way) about this performance of Le Nozze di Figaro at the Serbian National Theatre in Belgrade was the self-serving, infantile, offensive and just plain wrong production by celebrated Serbian theatre director Jagoš Marković.

The Met mounts a well sung but dramatically unconvincing ‘Carmen’

Should looks matter when casting the role of the iconic temptress for HD simulcast?

Maurice Greene’s Jephtha

Maurice Greene (1696-1755) had a highly successful musical career. Organist of St. Paul’s Cathedral, a position to which he was elected when he was just 22 years-old, he later became organist of the Chapel Royal, Professor of Music at the University of Cambridge and, from 1735, Master of the King’s Music.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

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):