Christopher Morley reviews Longborough's Cunning Little Vixen


Longborough Festival Opera *****
Longborough Festival Opera's efforts in mounting a full season during this more-than-challenging pandemic year have been nothing less than truly heroic, and have been rewarded with deserved acclaim.
There was a brilliant more-than-concert version performance of Wagner's Walkure in the main auditorium early on, scrupulously socially-distanced for performers (I include the wonderful orchestra) and audience alike, and then we moved into the Big Top, amazingly modified to create a rewarding acoustic, and affording as much comfort as possible. Pre-show and interval catering arrangements were meticulously planned, and for all of this alone LFO deserves to tick more boxes than Arts Council England manages to drag out of its woke resources.
But there was another plus in LFO's final presentation this year, the amazingly resourceful deployment of a children's chorus in this joyous production of Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen, an opera celebrating the cycle of the seasons (and subliminally Longborough's continual renewal and revival), whether as lusty chorus or enthusiastic stage-hands, dancing with props and furnishings held aloft during the lengthy orchestral interludes which punctuate and leaven the succinct onstage events.
Olivia Fuchs directs a production which bustles with energy but which also allows moments of sad reflection, the few humans involved (Kieran Rayner a sympathetic Forester) wallowing in nostalgia while the forest creatures and insects get on with the business of surviving – and subverting, as Julieth Lozano's Vixen Sharp-Ears so engagingly manages. Lozano is all energy and anger, but when she falls in love with Frances Gregory's genuinely smitten Dog-Fox she conveys melting tenderness. "How many children do we have, I've lost count," she asks after many happy seasons of marriage, and such a line, delivered so wonderingly, brings tears to the eyes.
This is such a wonderful team performance, from the children up to the experienced adults, delivering David Pountney's sometimes gratingly topical translation with enthusiasm. Justin Brown conducts fluently and supportively, his eyes more often on the singers rather than his score. And that score is in Jonathan Lyness' reduced orchestration, certainly resourceful, but occasionally smoothing out Janacek's deliberately rough edges and sounding almost louchely cabaret-like.
Part of Longborough's offer is the extended supper-interval, all well and good in Wagner, Mozart, Rossini and others. But here, with a 90-minute hiatus after a bare hour, with only 30 minutes to follow, such an idea borders on the ridiculous. I went into print about this the last time Longborough staged this life-enhancing opera, so wonderfully suited to the Longborough ambience, and I know my views were discussed.
Surely for an opera so concentrated and so tight in structure, the supper interval could in fact be postponed into an after-show gathering, everyone enthusiastically discussing what they have just seen and heard? And I know such a gathering would resound with appreciation and joy at what we had just all experienced here.
Christopher Morley

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