The Cunning Little Vixen

Libretto by Leoš Janáček from the novel by Rudolf Tesnohlidek
Glyndebourne Opera House
Glyndebourne Opera House

Emma Bell and Lucy Crowe Credit: Bill Cooper
Lucy Crowe and Emma Bell Credit: Bill Cooper

Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen premièred in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1924. The opera is based on a cartoon strip which appeared in a daily Brno newspaper. There are two worlds: an animal world and a human world. Is it a fairy tale or for real, you may ask?

Melly Still’s production, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski and sung in Czech, was seen at Glyndebourne in 2012. There are English subtitles. The opera will appeal to animal lover activists as well as poachers.

A forester (Sergei Leiferkus) tracks and captures a vixen (Lucy Crowe) and brings her home. The vixen escapes. She meets a fox (Emma Bell) and they have an erotic fling and behave just like humans. “It’s not your body,” sings the fox, “it’s your soul I love.” The vixen gets pregnant, so they get married. Six cubs are born.

Animals are having sex all the time and not necessarily with their own kind. Humans, represented by an elderly priest (Mischa Schelomianski) and an elderly schoolteacher (Adrian Thomson), are not having sex. Having sex is something that happened to them in the long-distant past. The big and urgent question for them now is, “how do you manage without a woman?”

The vixen, intelligent and opportunistic, carries her luxuriant, long, bushy brush as if it were a fashion accessory rather than as part of her body. (It’s not that long ago that it was fashionable for women to wear fox furs and their head and their paws.)

The hens are portrayed as plump floozie chorus girl chicks. A hen activist argues that hens don’t need a cock. (Political correctness gone mad!) They are all murdered by the vixen.

The stage is dominated by a giant artificial tree which blossoms when the foxes marry. There’s plenty of music without singing and so plenty of time for mime and dance. The thing which irritates most is that the animals are not easily identified. They all look too human.

The forester has the final word in a beautiful song, a monologue, a hymn to Nature, a mouthpiece for the 70-year-old Janáček, who enjoyed Nature. Awed and enriched by its wonders though he was, he nevertheless did not allow himself to get sentimental. The vixen is shot by a poacher and dies.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch