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JANÁČEK: The Cunning Little Vixen

spacer Crowe, Bell, Rigby; A. Thompson, Leiferkus, Dazeley, Schelomianski; 
Glyndebourne Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra, V. Jurowski. Production: Still. OpusArte OA 1101D, 119 mins. (opera), 22 mins. (bonus), subtitled

VixenDVD

Director Melly Still followed an acclaimed 2009 Glyndebourne Rusalka with another Czech work largely set in the forest and dealing with the uneasy intersection of the natural and human worlds — Janáček's 1924 Příhody lišky Bystroušky (correctly translated as Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears, but known better as The Cunning Little Vixen). The 2012 production has definite virtues, not least a radiant, clearly detailed performance of the score by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Vladimir Jurowski. The crucial interludes are superbly played; regrettably, they are also throughly overchoreographed (by Maxine Doyle), in the weakest element of an intriguing but visually far too busy staging. Too much upstaging, doubling and Tanztheater Wuppertal posing!

Tom Pye's fine set is dominated by a large tree (reminiscent of Herne's Oak in Falstaff) with a long, steeply raked, winding path that snakes behind it. Descent from the tree is accomplished with harnesses. At least in Thomas Grimm's filming, things often go better when the camera elides the background distractions. The lighting (Paule Constable) and most of the costumes — human-based with animal elements, like prominent tails for the foxes — are superb. The human characters look like Moravians from 1924 — Still does not spare us that now resounding cliché, an onstage photo — but the animals' garb, far more colorful, combines all manner of influences. Emma Bell's Fox, sensitively acted and well phrased but lacking much tonal beauty, is dressed like a Carnaby Street hipster circa 1967. There's an awful lot of blood and sex on view. Our initial view of the Cockerel has him humping one of the Hens (all dressed in cheap frilly garments as Vegas showgirls or sex workers). The Vixen stabs people and animals with a knife rather than biting them: one of the Hens gets dispatched with a slashed throat. The saltily rendered English titles, too, are not designed for kids!

Lucy Crowe makes a delightful, clear-voiced Vixen, full of mischief. Lucie Špičková as the rumpled Dog is the only native Czech-speaker — otherwise, there are just two Russians among the lower voices, Sergei Leiferkus (Forester) and Mi­scha Schelomianski (Badger/Priest). (They fare better than Russians usually do in sorting out the very different phonetics of Moravian dialect.) Leiferkus, always more appreciated in the U.K. than here, sounds rather light in midrange but sings and acts with vigor and detail. Schelomianski sings strongly and with a wide range and has a very expressive face. William Dazeley, strong on top, renders solid work as the poacher Harasta; veteran leads-turned-character-singers Jean Rigby (Forester's Wife/Owl) and Adrian Thompson (Mosquito/Schoolmaster) give good accounts of themselves. Thompson's portrait of a lonely man settling into romantic disappointment is — with Leiferkus's spirited reading of Janáček's miraculous final scene — the opera's most moving moment.

It's worth watching the twenty-two-minute "making of" feature for salient comments by the production team and singers. spacer

DAVID SHENGOLD

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Current Issue: September 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 3