S&H Opera Review

JANACEK The Cunning Little Vixen ENO, The Coliseum, London 14 February 2001

A very happy revival of the much loved Welsh National Opera/Scottish Opera production (original date not supplied) which first reached ENO in 1988; there is no reason why it should not go on forever! David Pountney and Maria Bjornson must take credit for its durability; the latest refurbishment is in the good hands of a team including Elaine Tyler-Hall, Marian Staal and Richard Farnes, a young conductor making his auspicious ENO debut, who showed himself entirely at home with Janacek's quirky and tricky idiom, which has now come to seem so entirely natural; it is hard to recapture the sense of amazement when the Janacek operas were first brought to UK by Charles Mackerras.

The Cunning Little Vixen is a children's tale for children and adults, though there are some of both generations who may now, eighty years on, find it too twee and hard to take anthropomorphic animals. But Janacek's own libretto is a subtle as you could wish, and a great deal of it came across well to the front stalls (whether so to the heights of the vast theatre I cannot say), notably the admirably clear delivery and diction of Mark le Brocq as the love-lorn schoolmaster. The human characters, led by the philosophically inclined Forester (Peter Coleman-Wright) are a sad group, described aptly by David Pountney as all 'sexually wounded' in the admirable programme book, which describes the opera's genesis from all points of view and has a selection of lively drawings from the serialised story of Bystrouska in Brno's daily paper, which Janacek adapted and compressed for his retelling. Susan Gritton showed us a Vixen who was playful, defiantly independent and ecstatic by turns, and the love scenes for the two intertwining sopranos (as affecting as many famous ones in opera) gave another opportunity for Sarah Connolly as the Fox to indulge her penchant for male roles.

The large cast showed the health of ENO as an ensemble opera company, with all the animals and humans tellingly characterised. It was good to see the numerous children, some of them very small, all listed together with their many schools from London and the home counties. Hopefully, many of their classmates will have come along and received an indelible impression of the delights of musical theatre.

Peter Grahame Woolf

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