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Friday, June 10, 2011

New York Philharmonic Opera Preview: The Cunning Little Vixen

Costume design for the Vixen by Doug Fitch.
Image courtesy Giants Are Small/New York Philharmonic.
© 2011 Giants Are Small.
The New York Philharmonic closes the 2010-2011 season with four complete performances of Leoš Janáček's Příhody Lišky Bystroušky, better known as The Cunning Little Vixen.
The semi-staged production reunites Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert with director Doug Fitch, the same team that created last season's staging of Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre. The performances will be sung in English.

The composer wrote his own libretto (based on a Czech comic strip). In his hands, the adventures of a girl fox named Sharp-Ears is the window through which to explore the animal world and man's relationship with nature. The score is filled with rich melodies and lush textures that temper
the composer's singular, angular style. And despite a plot which includes sex, politics, bondage, murder and premarital sex, this is the closest that Janáček ever came to writing a children's opera.

Oh yeah, and it's funny.
The story follows the Vixen through childhood, captivity, courtship, parenting, and ultimately death. Janacek uses the barnyard and forest to satirize women's liberation, worker's rights and the battle of the sexes, as presented in the Vixen's relationship with her eventual mate. The humans are also drawn fully, from the local parson and love-struck schoolmaster to the deeply soulful Forester whose relationship to the Vixen and her natural world is at the crux of the work.

Recording recommendations:
For an opera that is popular with audiences, there are only a few (four) recordings of Vixen in the catalogue. These are the two that I own. The first is in Czech. The second is in English. Both are highly recommended.

Vienna Philharmonic cond. Sir Charles Mackerras (Decca, 1985)
Forester: Dalibor Jedlicka
The Vixen, Sharp-Ears: Lucia Popp
The Fox: Eva Randova

Royal Opera House of Covent Garden cond. Sir Simon Rattle (EMI, 1991, reissued by Chandos)
Forester: Thomas Allen
The Vixen, Sharp-Ears: Lillian Watson
The Fox: Diana Montague

Watch the first scene from Geoff Dunbar's enchanting animated version of The Cunning Little Vixen, made for the BBC in 2003.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.