ON arrival at Getty’s magnificent Wormsley Estate it takes little time for working day tensions to evaporate in preparation for an evening of quality opera. Last Wednesday’s performance was perfectly prefaced by a sun-filled sky, balmy air and clouds in bizarre formations... and “bizarre” is the word that most accurately conveys what was to follow on stage.
One of the intriguing facets of Janácek’s opera is the boundary between animals and humans. The plot revolves around the lovely vixen Bystrouska and her relationship with the Forester, starting with her adoption by him as a child, her maturity into adult beauty, her demise at the hands of the poacher Hara?ta and, going full circle, the Forester’s discovery of her fox cub — her spitting image. Good and evil, happiness and sadness all coalesce in the final scenes.
Daniel Slater’s production was witty and outrageously licentious. Sheer comedy came in the form of a clutch of chickens played by women frenetically knitting identical red sweaters, sporting red rubber gloves on their heads and mimicking the hens’ jerky movements. At least one of them succumbs to the rapacious cockerel’s charms.
The three incarnations of the red-headed vixen were well cast and barely distinguishable from one another. The vixen’s slinky mannerisms were brilliantly simulated by the adult Bystrouska, played by soprano Claire Booth. Her singing was of matching quality, especially when asking: “Am I really so beautiful?” as she fell muzzle-over-paws in love with the Fox, whom she later marries in a ceremony officiated by the larger-than-life Woodpecker. The male (soprano Victoria Simmons) was convincingly portrayed, as was the Forester (baritone Grant Doyle). That the cast were able to sing in Czech is to be applauded.
Part of the work’s appeal is that it is highly balletic, the elements of dream and the sub-conscious depicted in dance and set alongside real-life alter egos to symbolise the work’s pervasive duality. The routines were erotic, as in the enactment of the Forester’s relationship with the young vixen, and later the foxes’ love-making.
Janácek’s composition was as arcane and varied as the plot, offering a rich seam of moods and texture. The orchestration was shot through with vivid onomatopoeia, mimicking the sounds of the woodland animal world. The orchestra, under conductor Garry Walker, gave an exemplary performance. A rapturous reception by the appreciative audience was well-deserved.
The Cunning Little Vixen
Wednesday, June 25