There are productions and recordings of Leos Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen but it is not an opera that has joined the standard repertoire. You are grateful for any production and especially thankful for one that is done well. E. Loren Meeker’s production for The Glimmerglass Festival qualifies as such as Artistic Director Francesca Zambello deserves a bow for her choice of an off-the-beaten track work.
The Cunning Little Vixen is a fairy tale about a vixen (sung marvelously by the agile Joanna Latini) fox from her youth to her death. As a cub, she is captured and taken home as a pet by the Forester (the ever sonorous Eric Owens). After killing the Forester’s hens, she escapes back to the forest where she grows up and finds love with another fox. Her cunning fails her and she is killed.
Joanna Latini as the Vixen and Eric Owens as the Forester in Janáček's "The Cunning Little Vixen."
Photo: Karli Cadel/ The Glimmerglass Festival
The opera’s characters are mostly animals and insects including hens, grasshoppers, frogs, dragonflies, a wolf, a badger, a mosquito, a dog, a boar, a woodpecker …and you get the idea. Aside from the Forester and his wife (Kayla Siembieda), there is a Schoolmaster (Dylan Morrongiello), a Parson (Zachary Owen), Pasek the Innkeeper (Brian Wallin), his wife (Gretchen Krupp) and Harasta, the Poacher (Wm. Clay Thompson).
It should be noted that the entire cast with the exception of Eric Owens is made up of Glimmerglass’s Young Artists Program and the Glimmerglass Youth Chorus. Most of the young men and women take on more than one role and the performances are simply admirable.
The Cunning Little Vixen is an orchestral piece, an opera and a ballet. There are some beautiful orchestral interludes and a great deal of dancing. With a few changes and additions, I think the work can easily be converted to a full-blown ballet. As such the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra by Joseph Colaneri performs brilliantly. The dancing as choreographed by Eric Sean Fogel is done quite well.
The flexible set by Ryan McGgettigan represents a large faux tree in the forest and it is easily adaptable to represent the Forester’s house or the tavern where the men drink and talk about love or the lack of it
Gretchen Krupp as Pasek's Wife, Eric Owens as the Forester, Dylan Morrongiello as the Schoolmaster.
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Janacek adapted the stories of Rudolf Tesnohlidek for his libretto which is of course in Czech. Glimmerglass presents the opera in English in a translation by Kelley Rourke. That no doubt solves the problem of finding singers who know Czech or can memorize the libretto phonetically. But the translation does have problems. Without knowing Czech, but having heard the opera in its original language, I felt that the English translation had many more syllables. The singers had to rush through phrases that simply did not fit the music and we lost the advantage of having the words married to the music and vice versa.
You may have post-performance rumblings of your own but nothing can take away from the wisdom of choosing to produce the opera, the display of young talent nurtuted by the Festival and the overall high-caliber performance.