Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen
is a real charmer of an opera, a tale that shows the natural world the composer had loved from childhood in its true colours: miraculous, beautiful, mysterious but also cruel. The inspiration came from a series of illustrated stories published in a Czech newspaper. The Vixen of the title is captured by a forester and taken home as a plaything for his children. She is soon thrown out of the house and has to make her own way in the world, encountering lust, stupidity, pride, love and ultimately death.
This 1995 performance was taken from the Chatelet Theatre in Paris. Visually, Nicholas Hytner's production is a triumph, the animals wonderfully wittily wrought (the mosquito with its syringe for a nose, the mangey old dog, distasteful in baggy Y-fronts, the hideous, goggle-eyed frog). And it's also brilliantly cast: Eva Jenis's Vixen is funny, sexy, endearing and youthful enough in voice and figure to convince. Thomas Allen is a veteran of the role of the Forester, a huge presence and singing in impeccable Czech. In fact, there's not a weak performance here, and that goes for the dancers and instrumentalists as well as the singers. And at the helm, who better than Sir Charles Mackerras, arguably the greatest living interpreter of Janacek's music? This is in essence a grown-up fairy tale, ravishingly done and extremely highly recommended.
On the DVD: The Cunning Little Vixen is presented on disc in vividly remastered PCM stereo, with 16:9 picture format that does full justice to the alluringly colourful designs. The disc is encoded for regions 2 and 5, and the menu and subtitle languages are English, German, French and Spanish. The useful booklet gives coherent background information and synopsis as well as full casting details. There's also a substantial (23-minute) trailer of other offerings from Arthaus Musik. --Harriet Smith
Piccola Volpe Astuta (La) / The Cunning Little Vixen