Vixen Sharpears –
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
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!