Richard Lutz takes his pew for Janecek’s rural fable at The Birmingham Hippodrome.
The phrase “suspension of belief” comes into sharp focus in this production of Leos Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen.
It’s a childlike fairy tale with dollops of adult innuendo and has to be defined as the only opera ever written that was developed from a cartoon.
The Czeck composer picked up the tale from his local paper and widened the story to illustrate how the woodland animals, from the vixen to the badger to a buzzy little mosquito, lead far more noble lives than the sullen, mean-spirited humans who encroach on their untrammelled landscape.
That’s it in a nutshell for this Welsh National Opera production, though Janacek added some hefty political ideology into his 1920’s story with mini lectures on socialism and feminism. There’s a hint of Animal Farm here as well (though the Orwell book was written 25 years later) as Sharp Ears, the pretty little eponymous vixen fox, kills off the hens in a farmyard because they won’t revolt against their sharp-taloned rooster.
The set design seems like it’s seen better days, the rolling landscape of snowy hills at times resembling a rumbled sheet. The stage splits open to reveal the fox hole and, when it comes to those nasty humans, a boozer and a hovel. It’s nice touch.
WNO’s Aoile Miskelly is the mischievous vixen (above) with a beautiful voice and Lucia Cervoni plays her loyal foxy husband with aplomb. Claudio Otelli fills the stage as the bald’headed brutish forester. He could be a bouncer in any Broad Street club and fills the stage with an ominous presence whenever he enters. Otelli does a fine job of the bad guy who, balefully, finds life wanting as he ages.