Tuesday 30 March 2010

Review of The Cunning Little Vixen

It seems amazing that Covent Garden's production of Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen is 20 year's old. Bill Bryden's production seemed fresh and charming when it was new and, remarkably, it has still preserved these qualities despite the fact that William Dudley's sets have rather a lot of moving parts.

Dudley's designs are highly mechanistic, but very evocative, and it can be argued that Bryden's production is a little too anthropomorphic (plus it relies a little too much on cute children). For me it contains one of the most memorable scenes in any staging of the opera, when the Spirit of the Vixen appears on a trapeze outlined against the moon and the starry sky.

The interest in this revival wasn't just that fact that it remains one of my all time favourite productions of the opera, but also that Sir Charles Mackerras was at the helm. His first time conducting the opera at Covent Garden. Despite apparent frailty (he stayed in the pit for the whole time and took his bow from there), his account of the opera was masterly, warm, transparent and vibrant.

The Forester was sung by Christopher Maltman with his characteristic charm and frankness. His final scene didn't quite reach the mystical element that I've experienced in other performances, but Maltman's warmth and directness were winning.

As the Vixen, Emma Matthew's displayed a spunky charm and worked very hard, but it cannot be denied that her voice was a size too small for the Covent Garden. There is always a tendency to cast the Vixen as a soprano with a slightly too small voice. But in this case, even Mackerras's sympathetic accompaniment couldn't disguise the problem.

Emma Bell was supposed to sing the Fox but she was ill so her place was gamely taken by Elisabeth Meister who turned in a fine performance, though her costume was hardly flattering. The remainder of the cast were all Covent Garden regulars with Jeremy White as the Badger and the Priest, Elizabeth Sikora as the Innkeeper's wife, Alasdair Elliot as the Innkeeper and Robin Leggate as the Mosquito and the Schoolmaster. Amazingly this was Leggate's 900th performance at Covent Garden. Matthew Rose made a welcome appearance as Harasta the Poacher.

The orchestra played finely under Mackerras's direction, making the orchestral interludes a delight to hear.

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