Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



Plumbago_9780993198359_1.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

A lukewarm performance of Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette from the LSO and Tilson Thomas

A double celebration was the occasion for a packed house at the Barbican: the 150th anniversary of Berlioz’s birth, alongside Michael Tilson Thomas’s fifty-year association with the London Symphony Orchestra.

Mahler’s Third Symphony launches Prague Symphony Orchestra's UK tour

The Anvil in Basingstoke was the first location for a strenuous seven-concert UK tour by the Prague Symphony Orchestra - a venue-hopping trip, criss-crossing the country from Hampshire to Wales, with four northern cities and a pit-stop in London spliced between Edinburgh and Nottingham.

From Darkness into Light: Antoine Brumel’s Complete Lamentations of Jeremiah for Good Friday

As a musicologist, particularly when working in the field of historical documents, one is always hoping to discover that unknown score, letter, household account book - even a shopping list or scribbled memo - which will reveal much about the composition, performance or context of a musical work which might otherwise remain embedded within or behind the inscrutable walls of the past.

Rigoletto past, present and future: a muddled production by Christiane Lutz for Glyndebourne Touring Opera

Charlie Chaplin was a master of slapstick whose rag-to-riches story - from workhouse-resident clog dancer to Hollywood legend with a salary to match his status - was as compelling as the physical comedy that he learned as a member of Fred Karno’s renowned troupe.

Rinaldo Through the Looking-Glass: Glyndebourne Touring Opera in Canterbury

Robert Carsen’s production of Rinaldo, first seen at Glyndebourne in 2011, gives a whole new meaning to the phrases ‘school-boy crush’ and ‘behind the bike-sheds’.

Predatory power and privilege in WNO's Rigoletto at the Birmingham Hippodrome

At a party hosted by a corrupt and dissolute political leader, wealthy patriarchal predators bask in excess, prowling the room on the hunt for female prey who seem all too eager to trade their sexual favours for the promise of power and patronage. ‘Questa o quella?’ the narcissistic host sings, (this one or that one?), indifferent to which woman he will bed that evening, assured of impunity.

Virginie Verrez captivates in WNO's Carmen at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Jo Davies’ new production of Carmen for Welsh National Opera presents not the exotic Orientalism of nineteenth-century France, nor a tale of the racial ‘Other’, feared and fantasised in equal measure by those whose native land she has infiltrated.

Die Zauberflöte brings mixed delights at the Royal Opera House

When did anyone leave a performance of Mozart’s Singspiel without some serious head scratching?

Haydn's La fedeltà premiata impresses at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama

‘Exit, pursued by an octopus.’ The London Underground insignia in the centre of the curtain-drop at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s Silk Street Theatre, advised patrons arriving for the performance of Joseph Haydn’s La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded, 1780) that their Tube journey had terminated in ‘Arcadia’ - though this was not the pastoral idyll of Polixenes’ Bohemia but a parody of paradise more notable for its amatory anarchy than any utopian harmony.

Van Zweden conducts an unforgettable Walküre at the Concertgebouw

When native son Jaap van Zweden conducts in Amsterdam the house sells out in advance and expectations are high. Last Saturday, he returned to conduct another Wagner opera in the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series. The Concertgebouw audience was already cheering the maestro loudly before anyone had played a single note. By the end of this concert version of Die Walküre, the promise implicit in the enthusiastic greeting had been fulfilled. This second installment of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung was truly memorable, and not just because of Van Zweden’s imprint.

Purcell for our time: Gabrieli Consort & Players at St John's Smith Square

Passing the competing Union and EU flags on College Green beside the Palace of Westminster on my way to St John’s Smith Square, where Paul McCreesh’s Gabrieli Consort & Players were to perform Henry Purcell’s 1691 'dramatic opera' King Arthur, the parallels between England now and England then were all too evident.

The Dallas Opera Cockerel: It’s All Golden

I greatly enjoyed the premiere of The Dallas Opera’s co-production with Santa Fe Opera of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel when it debuted at the latter in the summer festival of 2018.

Luisa Miller at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second production of the current season Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring Giuseppe Verdi’s Luisa Miller.

Philip Glass: Music with Changing Parts - European premiere of revised version

Philip Glass has described Music with Changing Parts as a transitional work, its composition falling between earlier pieces like Music in Fifths and Music in Contrary Motion (both written in 1969), Music in Twelve Parts (1971-4) and the opera Einstein on the Beach (1975). Transition might really mean aberrant or from no-man’s land, because performances of it have become rare since the very early 1980s (though it was heard in London in 2005).

Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams

New from Albion, Time and Space: Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams, with Mary Bevan, Roderick Williams, William Vann and Jack Liebeck, highlighting the close personal relationship between the two composers.

Wexford Festival Opera 2019

The 68th Wexford Festival Opera, which runs until Sunday 3rd November, is bringing past, present and future together in ways which suggest that the Festival is in good health, and will both blossom creatively and stay true to its roots in the years ahead.

Cenerentola, jazzed to the max

Seattle Opera’s current staging of Cenerentola is mostly fun to watch. It is also a great example of how trying too hard to inflate a smallish work to fill a huge auditorium can make fun seem more like work.

Bottesini’s Alì Babà Keeps Them Laughing

On Friday evening October 25, 2019, Opera Southwest opened its 47th season with composer Giovanni Bottesini and librettist Emilio Taddei’s Alì Babà in a version reconstructed from the original manuscript score by Conductor Anthony Barrese.

Ovid and Klopstock clash in Jurowski’s Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’

There were two works on this London Philharmonic Orchestra programme given by Vladimir Jurowski – Colin Matthews’s Metamorphosis and Gustav Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’. The way Jurowski played it, however, one might have been forgiven for thinking we were listening to a new work by Mahler, something which may not have been lost on those of us who recalled that Matthews had collaborated with Deryck Cooke on the completion of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony.

Birtwistle's The Mask of Orpheus: English National Opera

‘All opera is Orpheus,’ Adorno once declared - although, typically, what he meant by that was rather more complicated than mere quotation would suggest. Perhaps, in some sense, all music in the Western tradition is too - again, so long as we take care, as Harrison Birtwistle always has, never to confuse starkness with over-simplification.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

11 Oct 2019

Welsh National Opera revive glorious Cunning Little Vixen

First unveiled in 1980, this celebrated WNO production shows no sign of running out of steam. Thanks to director David Pountney and revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, this Vixen has become a classic, its wide appeal owing much to the late Maria Bjørnson’s colourful costumes and picture book designs (superbly lit by Nick Chelton) which still gladden the eye after nearly forty years with their cinematic detail and pre-echoes of Teletubbies.

Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen, Welsh National Opera, Millennium Centre, Cardiff

A review by David Truslove

Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith

 

Alongside masterly direction, Janáček’s vibrant score was fabulously well served by the WNO orchestra on opening night, and the array of impressive performances on stage was especially memorable for the talent of award-winning northern Irish soprano Aiofe Miskelly in the title role.

With a libretto based on the exploits of a wily fox illustrated in a Brno newspaper in 1920, Janáček’s opera offers a refreshingly simple plot in which a young vixen is captured by the local Forester. After killing his hens, she escapes, marries, rears a family and, in a moment of provocation, is shot by a poacher. While this is no cosy fireside fable, its bittersweet fairy-tale world is filled with larger than life woodland creatures whose brief lives are inextricably linked with their human counterparts. It engages on several levels, firstly in the symbiotic connection between man and nature, and secondly in the relationships between animal and human that generate a deeper commentary on the cycle of life and death and the inevitability of renewal. Of this universal and timeless reality Janáček would have been acutely aware when he began composing the work just two years before his seventieth birthday. To this ‘personal meditation on the brevity and fragility of existence’, to borrow from Philip Ross Bullock’s programme article, the composer responds with music of intense lyricism and restlessness.

Beyond the pantomime-like caterpillar (complete with concertina), cricket and dragonfly are themes of sexual awakening, regret and time passing that underpin a work Janáček referred to in a letter to his muse Kamilla Stösslová as ‘a merry thing with a sad end’. This tragic aspect is leavened by the arrival of new beginnings, so touchingly delivered near the end when the Forester meets a grandchild of a frog encountered in Act One and one of the vixen’s daughters - both poignant moments of vanishing youth. Not far from its jaunty and simultaneous pastoral surface are subsidiary ideas on freedom, socialism and the empowering of women - wittily dealt with when the vixen dreams of freedom, scolds the hens for their subservience to the cockerel, and later evicts an indolent badger from his sett.

Vixen Aoife Miskelly.jpgAoife Miskelly (Vixen). Photo credit: Richard Hubert Smith.

The whole is amply thought-provoking, but its concepts are all conveyed with a light brush. For those who are persuaded by spectacle, there’s plenty; this visual feast repeatedly draws the eye to silhouetted hills (set against deep blues and pinks), patchwork quilt landscapes (snowy sheets reminding us of the harshness of nature) and cutaway dwellings for the Forester’s cottage and local pub where the ageing schoolmaster and priest share lost opportunities. Gossiping birds suspended from the ceiling tell tales of other creatures in the community, one condemning a starling’s promiscuous daughter for being ‘a filthy slapper’. The massacre of the hens (dressed as charwomen) is brutal and the shower of red leaves as each one is slaughtered is a nice imaginative touch.

If sparkling wit and charm provide atmosphere for this production, it’s driven by a strong cast including some well drilled school children. Above all, it’s Aiofe Miskelly as the feisty vixen Bystrouška whose clear-toned soprano and gleeful presence is a perfect match for this role and equally convincing whether brazen or maternal. Hers was a portrayal glowing with humanity and if she overshadowed Lucia Cervoni’s eager fox, their duet was a special joy. Claudio Otelli, as the Forester warmed to his role and gave an impassioned closing soliloquy as he fondly recalled his younger self. There was much to enjoy too from Peter van Hulle’s lonely Schoolmaster, Wojtek Gierlach’s dignified Parson and David Stout’s unsentimental poacher. A host of fox cubs, creatures winged and of the four-legged variety also left their mark.

Down in the pit Tomáš Hanus directed his WNO forces with flair, bringing out the score’s vivid detail and energy, allowing individual players their moments in the sun, yet keenly alert to balance. In short, it’s a must-see production bursting with life.

David Truslove

Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen

Bystrouška - Aiofe Miskelly, Forester - Claudio Otelli, Fox - Lucia Cervoni, Poacher - David Stout, Schoolmaster - Peter Van Hulle, Parson - Wotjek Gairloch, Forester’s Wife - Kezia Bienek, Innkeeper - Martin Lloyd, Innkeeper’s Wife - Sarah Pope, Badger - Laurence Cole; Director - David Pountney, Conductor - Tomáš Hanus, Associate Director and Revival Choreographer - Elaine Tyler-Hall, Designer - Maria Bjørnson, Lighting Designer - Nick Chelton, Original Choreographer - Stuart Hopps, Orchestra and Chorus of Welsh National Opera.

Millennium Centre, Cardiff; Saturday 5th October 2019.

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):