Welsh National Opera – Příhody lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen)
Wales Millennium Centre
Saturday 5th October 2019
It’s always a delight to see more children at the opera. Whilst most would not be able to perhaps bare the intensity of Wagner, the Czech opera The Cunning Little Vixen is certainly a good start. Of course, fans of the composer Leoš Janáček need little encouragement to go see any of this work live.
This version of Vixen is one of WNO’s oldest running productions (way back from 1980) and it can show at times. The raised lumpy pasture set might look a little rough around the edges today though the late Maria Bjørnson’s production still has charm and a compact practicality perfect for touring. Director David Pountney put a lot into this mini opera (the ingenious, colourful costumes are a highlight), though it’s the score which really shines here. The numerous orchestral episodes leave opportunities for dance work, Stefanos Dimoulas as a fluttering Dragonfly channelled a fair bit of Nijinsky.
Adult humour here prevails with timeless quips about socialism and feminism, yet it is the atmosphere of the wondrous forest thanks to the orchestra of WNO that stays with you. Those who recall their past performance of From The House of The Dead will know just how exceptional they are when playing Janáček. Conductor Tomáš Hanus brings authentic Czech brilliance here to work that feels like child’s play to him.
Our Vixen here is Aoife Miskelly, equally quick witted and assertive. It’s a surreal role in a surreal opera, but Miskelly sings with vigour and often gets some amazing moments with the humans and other woodland critters. Her death by the hands of the Poacher (a brief, robust appearance by David Stout) is the hill worth dying on, a defining moment in the opera, a pure stillness in the breathless aftermath. Lucia Cervoni is her suitor Fox, a silly trouser role, leading to much love and marriage for the couple. Cervoni seems to really enjoy herself here and we fall for her as the tweed wearing stud fox.
The Forester, played by Claudio Otelli is a large part of the show, hell bent on killing our Vixen after his brief capture of her. This can feel like a demanding role, though Otelli seems to keep control and focus in the wood that engulfs him. The Parson performed by Wojtek Gierlach is a short part of a conflicted man of the cloth, sung with bass bravado. Of course, the many roles here for children and adults, of humans and animals make for a stellar ensemble. The Cockerel, payed by Michal Clifton-Thomas and his hens is an absurd highlight. His strutting like a cock is a memorable moment and the hens approaching the apparently dead Vixen is another funny moment.
A delightful, evocative encounter that should be seen by everyone.
Rating: 4 stars
The Cunning Little Vixen continues at the WMC with further performances of Rigoletto & Carmen, then on tour.
Photo Credit: Richard Hubert Smith