The Cunning Little Vixen


Leoš Janáček The Cunning Little Vixen opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2008 by André Engel with the Opéra national de Paris at the Opéra Bastille. Stars Elena Tsallagova (Vixen), Jukka Rasilainen (Forester), Michèle Lagrange (Wife/Owl), David Kuebler (Schoolmaster), Roland Bracht (Parson), Paul Gay (Vagrant), and Hannah Esther Minutillo (Fox). Dennis Russell Davies conducts the Orchestra of the Opéra national de Paris, the Choir of the Opéra national de Paris, and the Childrens' Choir of the Opéra national de Paris (Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine). The Chorus Master was Alessandro Di Stefano. Stage design by Nicky Rieti; costumes by Elizabeth Neumuller; choreography by Françoise Grès; lighting by André Diot; dramaturgy by Dominique Muller. Directed for TV by Don Kent. Released 2009,  disc has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound. Grade: B

In a work inspired by a comic strip, Janáček says animals that act like people are happier than people who act like animals. People just use their smarts to destroy themselves with envy and remorse. Still, the forester (Janáček), listening to the animals, achieves the bliss of resignation. Since the libretto is free of all moorings, anything can happen. In a fiery parody of Lenin, the vixen incites the hens to revolt against the cock. When the hens hesitate, she does what a fox does to hens---she kills them all. When daddy fox woos vixen, his lines are a direct knock off of Rodolfo declaring love to Mimi in La Bohème. Well, Mimi gets a muff and then dies. In subject libretto, vixen dies and gets made into a muff. Such zaniness seems normal while intoxicated on Janáček's smooth, discord-free musical cocktail: one part shifting arrays of sound (Debussy), one part folk songs (Dvořák), and a twist of Phillip Glass (who came later, of course). This short show should be popular with children on account of the delightful presentation of the animals. And there's plenty for the adults to ponder without troubling the little ones. Impeccable production all round by the Paris National Opera; multiple menu mysteries from idéaleaudience.

Here an additional  mini-review from Wonk Gordon Smith:

I watched the idéaleaudience Cunning Little Vixen last night on HDVD after having seen an actual performance of the same production at the Opera Bastille a week before. At last--- a chance to compare HDVD with Live!

The HDVD does faithfully represent the work and the production. But to be totally, brutally honest, I was disappointed in the HDVD when compared to my memory of the live show. We had extremely good seats at the live opera which let us see and hear very well. Having the overtitles way up above us in the real opera hall did not make it easy to follow the "plot"--- although that isn't much of a problem for this simple libretto. Compared to the live performance, the HDVD version seemed "closed in" or even claustrophobic. Especially the close-ups! My home theater can't convey the feeling of space you get in an opera house that has ceilings 100 ft high. Nor does it convey the sense of expectation you get when 2,800 people are all sharing the same experience. With the memory of the "real thing" so fresh, I guess my home theater letdown was to be expected. And if we had been in cheaper seats further back and higher up, then I might have been happier with the HDVD in comparison to the opera house.

When I see something good in my home theater, I often feel that what I'm getting is "better than being there." But my recent experience with the Cunning Little Vixen does indicate that the BTBT factor is relative. And in any case, we can't "be" everywhere. So the privilege we enjoy of seeing wonderful HDVD productions under good conditions in the comfort of our own homes remains very valuable. Gordon Smith July 2010

Sorry, we can't recommend any YouTube clip for this title recorded at the outset of the age of HDVD.