OPERA NEWS - The Cunning Little Vixen
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The Cunning Little Vixen

The Glyndebourne Festival

In Review Glyndebourne Vixen hdl 812
Foxy ladies: Crowe and Bell in Glyndebourne's Vixen
© Bill Cooper 2012

Last time Glyndebourne presented Janáček's Cunning Little Vixen, back in 1975, director Jonathan Miller oversaw an English-language staging. In the 2012 festival's opening-night production, directed by Melly Still — who gave the Sussex venue a medium success in her opera debut, directing Dvořák's Rusalka back in 2009 — Vixen was sung, following the company's now more rigid original-language policy, in Czech (May 20). With a largely Anglophone cast, the result tended to dilute the impact of a piece that ought to work perfectly in this idyllic rural setting.

Still's designers were Tom Pye (sets) and Dinah Collin (costumes). Their decision not to offer a prettified, Walt-Disney-like approach was welcome — Janáček's attitude to his forest creatures is anything but sentimental. But a kind of magic is necessarily implied in what is at least partly an anthropomorphic fantasy, and here that was only fitfully achieved. Visually, the evening lacked distinction and consistency. Some creatures — the Frog, for example, and the Hens, oddly attired as flamboyant tarts — only slightly resembled their animal originals, and why their particular physical human characteristics had been selected and grafted on seemed unclear.

The village inn scenes that complement and comment on the forest episodes also hung fire on this occasion. Not even the combined efforts of Mischa Schelomianski (Priest, doubling as the Badger), Adrian Thompson (Schoolmaster/Mosquito) and Sergei Leiferkus (Forester) could summon up the requisite sense of nostalgia as the village's senior citizens, bickering and discoursing on their lost youth and missed opportunities; indeed, the performance of Leiferkus, now sixty-five, felt muted throughout.

There was some vitality, though, from the two female leads — Lucy Crowe's Vixen and Emma Bell's Fox. Their wooing and highly reproductive marriage in the final act provided the evening's most engaging stage pictures as well as its most striking vocalism, each of them offering a decisive musical character and a brightness of tone that left a positive mark on the more focused proceedings at this point. William Dazeley's menacing poacher, Harašta, also hit his interloping spot. The substantial ballet sequences, though, choreographed by Maxine Doyle, made little impact.

In the pit, Glyndebourne's music director, Vladimir Jurowski, led a clean, confident London Philharmonic Orchestra, galvanizing them into playing that was notable for its vigor and textural clarity. But something important was missing in a reading that felt cool and clinical overall, rather than lyrically expansive. Janáček's ability in this score to allow the audience to enter into a new empathy with the natural world is one of the score's most endearing qualities; but on this occasion that vital and miraculous connection merely came and went. spacer


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