The Cunning Little Vixen

Reviewer's rating

The Longborough Opera Festival ends its season every year with a show that highlights young professionals just starting their careers in opera, and this year’s offering was a delightful and ultimately moving production of Janacek’s fable-
opera, The Cunning Little Vixen.

Using the very fine English translation by David Pountney, with a few tweaks for updating, a cast of singers – most of whom only started their professional lives as singers 3 or 4 years ago – performed an evening of captivating theatre in the round in a circus tent. The evening did justice to the true point of this fable written originally by Janacek himself based on a comic strip character. The opera uses the characteristics of animals to present the virtues and failings of human beings and to convey a sense of the cycle of human life. The anthropomorphism is rather like an extra-sophisticated Walt Disney approach and has the same mix of charm and darkness with a redemptive and upbeat message.

Julieth Lozano was the complete centre of the forest world, playing a feisty, fiercely independent, and witty vixen. The energy of her singing and her movement was limitless; her performance utterly charming. The character in the story who balances her is a human being, the Forester, sung with strong musical and dramatic expression, by Kieran Rayner. He has both an appealing, well-modulated voice and a very strong stage presence. Like Lozano, he is a convincing actor. His character, encountering the next generation of forest animals at the conclusion of the story, brings the tale full circle as he encounters and muses upon the continuity of life and on community.

The music and singing rose at that point to a level of powerful emotional intensity that is one of the most memorable highlights of Janacek’s brilliant, effulgent and modernistic score. Conducting his excellent orchestra with a strong feeling for the idiom of Janáček. Justin Brown (using the intelligently reduced orchestration for the Longborough band by Jonathan Lyness) convincingly conveyed the astringent lyricism of Janáček’s original composition.

One of the notable delights of the evening was the use of local children playing many of the forest animals and singing hauntingly as the Longborough Youth Chorus. Director Olivia Fuchs welded this large, diverse, and youthful company into a real ensemble. Frances Gregory stood out playing both the Dog in the early part of the opera and the lover, Gold Spur the Fox, in Act II. The singing of the scene where the fox and the vixen meet and mate was compellingly tender and erotic. Aaron Holmes made a strong impression as Harašta, the poacher; as did Gabrial Seawright as the sad, sweet, timid, and repressed Schoolmaster and David Howes is both the Badger whom the vixen evicts from his home and the village priest. I was also very pleased to see some children in the audience. I remember taking my older daughter to see the Welsh National Opera version of The Cunning Little Vixen years ago when she was nine years old and she was charmed into being an opera fan on the spot. As a presentation of this work, it was a strong evening. And as a showcase for young talents, it was a triumph.