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The Cunning Little Vixen [DVD] 
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Arthaus Musik trailer 23 min
Feature Length: 98 min Sound Format: PCM Stereo
Menu Languages: GB, D, F, SP
Subtitle Languages: GB, D, F, SP
Picture Format: 16:9
Region Code: 2, 5
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
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The story follows the group of animals and the small group of humans as they age. The human group interact with each other and also with the woodland world. The animals do the same in reverse. Both groups inevitably clash with each other but continue to behave in their own particular ways. Basically Janacek is writing an opera showing how life continually moves on and recycles.
Janacek first came across this story as a novella `Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears' which was published in 51 parts in a literary journal before being turned into book form. It is still in print. He immediately wanted to write the opera despite advice to the contrary. He stated that for years he had listened to the animals, memorising their speech. He declared "I am at home with them." He later confided that this score was the favourite of all his operas.
All this can all be enjoyed at a fairly superficial level as a simple tale. It can also be seen as rather moralistic which may well be what inspired Janacek to write it bearing in mind his close identification with the language of the animals.
The delightful story is beautifully performed with all the sympathy you would expect from such an experienced Janacek specialist as Mackerras. The cast is uniformly excellent and the staging makes imaginative use of rapidly changing scenery flats. The costumes are equally imaginative and brightly coloured giving a visually attractive air to all the woodland scenes.
In more detail it should be mentioned that Thomas Allen is ideally cast as the aging forester who is still able to take a delight in his woodland surroundings. His voice is as mellifluously pleasant as always. The fox is wonderfully cast with just the right air of knowing worldliness being portrayed by Hana Minutillo. The cock and hens section is mildly amusing with the hens gently clucking as an unscripted background chattery noise. However Eva Jenis as the vixen is the star of the opera with a delightfully childlike approach to her role. She is young and sprightly enough to be completely charming. Her eventual death comes as a considerable dramatic shock.
The various wood land animals are `danced' largely by adults and this brings an extra dimension of gentle adult imagination and humour that is not present to the same extent in the recent Blu-ray alternative which relies on a cast of children for the same roles.
The widescreen imaging of this 1995 production remains sharp without having the ultimate Blu-ray definition. It is typical of the reliable standards of the Brian large team. The sound is in stereo only but such is the pleasure of the production that one quickly adjusts although it is necessary to raise the volume by several decibels to obtain best results.
As a performance and production this is an easy 5 stars but because of the stereo only option and the presence of a good rival Blu-ray version I feel it is only fair to comment that for these reasons some purchasers would drop a star. However, for my taste, this is still a 5 star issue.
Singers and orchestra excellent; one must praise Eva Jenis for acting out a sexy vixen and, particularly Robert Allen; he seemed genuinely moved, in the final scene, by the score's evocation of forest beauty in springtime.
Perhaps, though, it is the brilliant professional dancers, who carry the day!
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