NEW YORK CITY: The Cunning Little Vixen
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In Review > North America

The Cunning Little Vixen

Manhattan School of Music Senior Opera Theater

MANHATTAN SCHOOL OF MUSIC'S Senior Opera Theater delivered a joyful, life-affirming production of Janáček’s Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears (more commonly known as The Cunning Little Vixen) in Norman Tucker’s savvy, singable English translation (seen March 29). The opera proved an excellent choice for the young performers, with vocal demands within their capabilities and opportunities to feature the predominantly female corps. As director Dona D. Vaughn made clear in her opening remarks, the cast inhabited their animal personae with relish, but even the human characters found character-specific physicality that aided the storytelling. Conductor Jorge Parodi drew vivid colors from the orchestra with clarity and elegance while allowing the voices to bloom in the intimate dimensions of the Ades Performance Space.

The alternate title proved apt, as Shantal Martin’s Vixen went beyond cunning. Adorable, feisty, sensitive, and curious, with gentle, unforced acting and a bright, direct soprano, Martin traversed the character’s life cycle with femininity that was simultaneously soft and strong. Paired with her as the confident, smooth-talking Fox, Victoria Falcone used her incisive mezzo as a grounding force and ably negotiated the higher phrases. Their wooing scene was a highlight. As the Forester, Michael Gracco offered a sonorous baritone of impressive lyricism that served him equally well in his grandstanding and his moment of self-reflection in Act III. (In this staging, without altering any of the sung text, director Vaughn had the Forester peacefully expire at the end of the act.) Mezzo Victoria Isneria was all wide-eyed indignation as his overwhelmed wife. Guanbo Su’s resonant bass informed both the put-upon Badger and the introspective Parson with maturity, seriousness of purpose, and killer low notes. As the Schoolmaster, sweet-toned tenor Emmett Tross presented a figure of dignity that suggested still waters under a layer of barely concealed impatience. José Maldonado was a hungry, hedonistic Haraschta, nursing dissatisfaction and disappointment with a penetrating bass, while milking his sung crying for humor and pathos.

Jihye Oh’s preening rooster presided hilariously over her brood of quacky, clacky chicks with their pearls and knitting needles. Unfortunately, the Vixen devoured them all, but not before Claudilia Holloway had her say as the lively Hen. Polixeni Tziouvaras displayed a warm mezzo as the friendless, frolicsome Dog, and Hannah Black doubled as a spoiled Frantik and world-weary Woodpecker. Montana York was an animated Frog, Heeso Sun a sunny Butterfly, Sarah Schultz a gracefully dancing Dragonfly, and Alexandra Koutelos a fashion-forward owl in Iris Apfel’s signature glasses. As the Mosquito, tenor Biran Egan conveyed the eager glee those hateful insects must feel when circling their unsuspecting prey. In Summer Lee Jack’s colorful, suggestive costumes, the ensemble pranced, crawled, and danced gamely. They also sang well, particularly in the Act II wedding celebration.  —Joanne Sydney Lessner 

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