Janácek's instinct and
sympathy for rural life comes clearly into focus with his opera The
Cunning Little Vixen (Brno, 1924), in which he transformed a newspaper
cartoon strip into an affirmation of the cycle of life. The rustic characters
and the animals afford splendid opportunities for designers in the theatre.
But the music is inspired too, not least the moving conclusion in which
the young vixen appears and succeeds her dead mother, thus confirming
the renewal of life.
Few operas allow designers and producers such a feast
of opportunities as The Cunning Little Vixen, so the DVD format
is ideal for this work. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that
there has not been a commercial video recording prior to this one. This
live performance from Paris in 1995 has taken a long time to cross the
channel, although it has been available for some time in the United
No conductor has done
more to aid Janáček's cause than Sir Charles Mackerras, and his
Decca recording with Lucia Popp and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
remains the benchmark by which the musical virtues of other issues are
judged. This DVD version is certainly good musically, though neither
the singing nor the orchestral playing can match the standards found
on the earlier set. There is a Supraphon version conducted by Frantisek
Jilek which is very acceptable too.
Mackerras conducts with love and understanding. The
pacing is ideal, and the music's lyrical intensity is experienced at
every stage. The phrasing and balances allow the singers to be heard,
and despite a few proofing slips the subtitles work very well too.
The cast is led by Thomas Allen's Forester and Eva
Jenis's Vixen, roles which could hardly be more different. The former
is on assured form, and he manages to convey a real love of nature and
the countryside. The production gives these scenes priority over the
scenes involving humans, which are treated rather as interludes. This
is an understandable and workable option, but it does weaken the characterisation
somewhat. As a result the schoolmaster and parson make less impression
than they might, for example.
Eva Jenis is a mobile Vixen, using the stage to excellent
effect and singing with assurance. The other animal characters respond
to her leadership, and with colourful costumes and scenery the dance
sequences are most enjoyable too. They work so well because the unbroken
line of Janáček's musical development
remains fresh and vital. Therefore the performance flows with urgency
and dramatic intensity. There is room for wit in some of the characterisations,
in which regard all praise to Richard Novák as the Badger and Jean-Philippe
Marlière as the down-at-heel, ageing dog.
The ArtHaus booklet is printed in three languages,
- German, French and English - and is one of the best opera booklets
provided for this format to date. There is a useful synopsis and some
interesting general material, but no libretto of course, since the option
of subtitles is there when viewing.