> DVD - Leos Janacek - The Cunning Little Vixen [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leos JANÁCEK (1854-1928)
The Cunning Little Vixen

Eva Jenis (soprano) The Vixen
Thomas Allen (baritone) Forester
Hana Márov  (mezzo) Forester's wife; Owl
Josef Hajna (tenor) Schoolmaster; Mosquito
Richard Novák (bass) Parson; Badger
Ivan Kusnjer (baritone) Harasta
Jean-Philippe Marliare (bass) Innkeeper; Dog
Sarah Connolly (mezzo) Innkeeper's wife; Cock; Jay
Florence Bonnefous (soprano) Hen
François Martinaud (soprano) Woodpecker
Châtelet Choir; Hautes-de-Seine Maîtrise
Orchestre de Paris/Sir Charles Mackerras
Stage director: Nicholas Hytner
Video director: Brian Large
Recorded June 1995, Châtelet Theatre, Paris
ARTHAUS MUSIK 100 240 [98.00]

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 States.

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.

Terry Barfoot

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