There is no other opera quite like The Cunning Little Vixen, which was inspired by a comic strip and presents episodes in the life of a female fox, Sharp-Ears, from her childhood through captivity, escape, maturity, chi... more »ldbearing, old age, and violent death, making way for a new generation. There is a fine balance of cute and funny elements and hard-edged realism in the story, which combines human and animal characters, with several singers doubling animal and human roles. Under a Walt Disneyish surface, the opera reflects deeply on the continuity of life, its beauty and conflicts. The music is bright, energetic, and endowed with an often ethereal beauty. Sir Charles Mackerras, generally recognized as the ultimate Janácek conductor of our time, gives his usual first-class performance, aided by a well-selected cast and important contributions by director Nicholas Hytner and designer Bob Crowley. Sharp-Ears is not only cuddly and anthropomorphic, attuned to nature, capable of love, and even maternal, she is also clever, mischievous, and utterly unscrupulous, willing to massacre a whole flock of chickens when the opportunity arrives. In short, one of opera's great, ambiguous female characters and one of the most difficult to portray. Eva Jenis does a marvelous job, as do Hana Mutillo as her foxy lover and Thomas Allen in the leading human role. Some of the music's best moments are wordless, as might be expected in an opera with more animals than humans in its cast. Much of the production's attraction depends on the dancers, costumed as a dog, a frog, a mosquito, chickens, dragonflies, etc. Being danced by humans, these varied species are all of roughly the same size, but clever costuming makes their identities generally clear. Particularly impressive is a mosquito who has a red-tipped hypodermic needle for a nose. --Joe McLellan« less
Janacek's masterpiece in a good, if not great, production
David Herter | Seattle, WA United States | 03/25/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Unknown to most opera goers, Janacek's brilliant fable reverses most of the genre's liabilities. There is no bombast; the plot moves quickly, the libretto -- cobbled together by the composer from a newspaper comic strip -- is touching, deft and profound; and the only diva in sight is shot long before the finale. The opera doesn't need excessive fancy, which this production sometimes supplies in overabundance, and the work's dark tone, its grounding in rural Moravian peasant life, is negated by the somewhat flouncy presentation and a poor translation that elicits laughter in the wrong places -- a much better English version exists. It's also unfortunate that the chorus is moved off-stage to favor dancers, which reduces the rollicking climax to the wedding scene (of course, Janacek himself had so often used off-stage choruses to memorable effect, but here the bustle of voices is needed). Nonetheless, this cyrstalline DVD (some of the images nearly convince us we're in a theater) gives us Thomas Allen as the ideal Forester, the great Czech singer Richard Novak as the Badger/Parson, mostly vivid set designs and colors, a rousing performance by Janacek expert Charles Mackerras, and the compact perfection of the opera itself. Now if only From the House of the Dead, Kat'ya Kabanova, Osud, and the rest of Janacek's singular operas would be released."
My two cents of what this opera is about
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 01/09/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"On repeated viewing I am struck by what I perceive to be the profound message of this work. The opera depicts two separate worlds: the human world and the animal world ("nature") which exist in parallel without any true communication or mutual understanding. Whenever humans do interact meaningfully with the animal world, the results are seemingly disastrous for the animals, but as the last scene with the frog closes a circle of three generations (of frogs), it is nature that has the last word. The opera is about human blindness/deafness to nature and about the price of this deficiency. The animals and insects in the opera are pretty cheerful and even minor disasters like the death of a mother does not leave a lasting mark on the orphans. The humans, however, are quite conflicted and lacking in their disappointing private lives, who in the final analysis go unnoticed by nature's inexorable rhythm. On some level these disappointments, when presented side by side to the animals' and insects' relentless pursuit of pleasure and procreation, can be seen as a punishment or a consequence of human's inability to be part of the wider realm of the animal kingdom. The character of the dog is an example of a domestic animal that left the "nature" world of the opera, and tied (literally) its fate with that of humans. He is presented in the opera as pathetic. I think the message is that the dog, like the humans, is deaf to its true nature, and pays the price - this characterization of the dog cannot be purely for comical purposes. The gamekeeper is struggling with the yearning to "nature", although he doesn't know how to express it other then by trying to subordinate it, sometimes violently. This yearning is almost sexualized in his "relationship" with the vixen, the dramatic center of the work. He is suffering as a result, and only at the end of the last scene we see him almost lost and surrounded by the swirling creatures of the forest, finally content like a baby."
A "children's opera" for adults
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 12/31/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This opera is for those who are tired of the standard repertoire. I was attracted to the Decca recording of this opera on discs, with Lucia Popp, because it was so unusual (cartoon animal and human characters, episodic anti-romantic story). Even though I found it highly intriguing, I could not sustain my concentration beyond the first act. I was attracted to this DVD because I was curious how the animal roles could be staged. The real stars here are Director Nicholas Hytner and Bob Crowley's vividly colorful sets. Some scenes are genuinely funny (the vixen killing the chicken). Even though I sustained concentration through two acts out of three, this is a very unique (and rare) production, of the kind you will rarely see in any opera house. Technically excellent, a strong buy recommendation (only 4 stars out of caution - try any other piece by Janacek first to see if you warm up to it)."
A cunningly beautiful production
David Herter | 01/06/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a beautifully produced and sung production of a seldom-seen opera--not as fine an opera as The Makropulos Case, perhaps, but still very worthwhile if you love, or even just like, Janacek. Aside from Thomas Allen (the gamekeeper), the cast was unfamiliar to me; Eva Jenis is a wonderful vixen. Recorded in high definition tv, so visually the quality is much better than most of the opera DVDs released so far."
A Great Grand Opera
Giordano Bruno | Wherever I am, I am. | 07/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Janacek is steadily rising in the pantheon of 20th C opera composers, with more productions and more attention to his whole corpus of works. The Cunning Little Vixen is the latest success story; on the surface, a fairy tale based on a cartoon, featuring almost as much dance as singing, it would seem unlikely to be profound and emotionally compelling. But it is. The Huntsman, the principal character, stands and sings a concluding aria which is fuller of the love of life than anything I remember in any other opera of any era in any language! The orchestral music, as you'd expect if you know Janacek, is strangely original and "modern" and yet instantly accessible and enjoyable. There are two DVD productions of The Cunning Little Vixen, both well worth viewing and hearing. This is the one I prefer, both for the performance of the huntsman and for the charm of the costuming.