Ninety years on and a cartoon strip that appeared in a Moravian newspaper continues to show us the nature of life and its cyclic immortality. Leoš Janáček’s beautiful and musically inviting The Cunning Little Vixen is currently being performed at the Sherman Theatre by the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.
Every time this opera is recreated, the director is faced with a decision as to whether the human context is more important to focus on than the cartoon comic woodland fairy tale. On this occasion, Harry Fehr chooses an extreme and creates a complete human adaptation with a darker edge that plays against the cartoon (aside from the wedding party which is a welcome folk interlude). Rather than the human characters being anthropomorphised, Fehr concentrates on the characters’ animal instincts being dramatised.
The ‘Vixen’ is a moniker just as her love interest (Zlatohřbitek) goes by the name of ‘The Fox’. Throughout her youth Bystrouška (Sophie Levi) is convicted for a number of criminal activities. Locked up by Sheriff (Emyr Wyn Jones), her obsessive pursuer usually takes the form of a forester but the creatures of the animal kingdom are replaced by their domestic counterparts: holiday makers, police offers and a gang of ‘liberated’ female convicts that replace the clucking hens of the animal kingdom.
Whilst the production loses its comic enchanting quality, it was an interesting interpretation and one that comfortably plays to all the advantages of a young ensemble; the life cycle focuses on growing up and the adolescent right of passage. Sophie Levi’s expressive and impassioned performance as the cunning Vixen also captures an awkward teenage insecurity whilst she is being courted by Zlatohřbitek, her love interest, charmingly played by Jessica Robinson. In the male cast, Emyr Wyn Jones’ command of the Sheriff role and his character’s journey is particularly impressive. Whilst the futile attempts to catch the Vixen enrage him, his concluding paean to nature is poignant and his rich tone is perfectly complimented by the moving orchestral score.
Aside from a few stage glitches, the production was performed to an incredibly high standard and the star voices were as good any professional production. The RWCMD chamber orchestra conducted by David Jones brought the colourful and boisterous score to life as the comic character resonated through the music. If you are a fan of Janáček’s work, this unusual adaptation is well worth a watch.
The Cunning Little Vixen is on from 7-9th July at the Sherman Theatre.