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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
The Cunning Little Vixen (1923)
Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin/Kent Nagano
BBC OPUS ARTE OA 0839 D
[75 minutes]


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Vixen Sharpears – Christine Buffle
The Forester – Grant Doyle
Dashwood Fox – Richard Coxon
Harashta – Keel Watson
Schoolmaster, Mosquito, Grasshopper – Peter Van Hulle
Badger – Andrew Foster-Williams
Forester’s Wife, Owl – Katarina Giotas
Cockerel – Richard Roberts
Chief Hen – Michelle Sheridan
Woodpecker – Mark Wilde
Lapák the Dog – Matt Baker
Vixen Cub – Beth Lynch
Grandson Frog – Matthew Smith
Pepík – Nicholas Smith
Fox Cub – Bea Weiss
Frantík – Edward Weston
Additional voices by the BBC Singers and New London Children’s Choir/Ronald Corp

 

In his on-screen discussion on the project, animator Geoff Dunbar comments on how of all operas, The Cunning Little Vixen is highly suited to the medium of animation. Of course, Janáček’s initial inspiration, drawn from the newspaper cartoon ‘Vixen Sharpears’, bears this out. It would appear that Dunbar has certainly tried to be true to the original style and appearance of the cartoon. Despite the technological production benefits that computer-aided animation can bring the figure drawing, as sophisticated as it clearly is when put into context, has a charming simplicity that makes the film all the more endearing.

For the benefit of the animation the decision was taken to remove the human element from the opera. What remains amounts to a little under sixty minutes of music in Kent Nagano’s abridged version of the score, concentrating solely on the story of the vixen herself, her capture and the animals around her.

I found that going into this film with a reasonably open mind paid dividends. Whilst I have to admit to some doubts beforehand at no point did I encounter a serious problem with Nagano’s abridged material. Dunbar comments that certain tempos were perhaps taken slightly quicker to aid the animation although I cannot say that I found this necessarily to be the case. There is an element of the singing style being adapted to what Nagano describes as "vocal acting" but again this comes across acceptably when placed in the context of the overall concept. One benefit is that the diction is admirably clear and should present no problems for children to follow with relative ease. Youngsters with particularly "sharp ears" (excuse the pun!) may recognise the voice of Blue Peter’s Matt Baker as Lapák the dog. Do watch out for the scene in the Inn where there is a fleeting glimpse of a seated man who bears an uncanny resemblance to the composer himself!

One of the additional features on the disc, utilising the angle button on the remote control, allows the original animation story board to be watched on screen, whereby the various stages of animation, from figure drawing via "colouring in" to the final animation, can be seen simultaneously. Other than the fascination of watching how the animation comes to life younger viewers will no doubt find considerable fun in navigating around the various stages of production.

Anyone who is particularly sensitive or purist in their views may be wise to shy away but for many this film will give nothing but delight. There is a clear feeling that both musicians and producers have genuinely attempted to remain as true to the composer’s wishes as possible. Of equal importance in this reviewer’s opinion is the hope that this delightful production may bring new admirers to what is surely one of the most magical of all operas. Some may well have seen it when it was televised over the Easter holiday weekend. Certainly it has succeeded in holding the attention of my two and a half year old daughter, a feat that in itself gives me reason for admiration and pleasure. Moreover, I have a sneaking suspicion that the composer himself would have loved it!

Christopher Thomas

 

 



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