Opera Review: The Cunning Little Vixen

Richard Lutz takes his pew for Janecek’s rural fable at The Birmingham Hippodrome.


pic: Richard Hubert Smith


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.