CBSO Cunning Little Vixen review

HUGE SYMPHONY TO NATURE

THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN
CBSO at Symphony Hall

Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen is a huge symphony to nature in operatic guise, and this utterly absorbing and enchanting semi-staged performance from a wonderfully attuned CBSO made me more aware of the anguished subtext than I ever have been in the many productions I have seen.
Written by Janacek towards the end of his life, the opera poignantly sets the eternal cycle of nature's renewal in relief against the human condition's inexorable progress towards regretful decay. Nowhere is this juxtaposition more heartbreakingly obvious than in the very final scene, where the world-weary Forester, warmly and compellingly sung by Roland Wood, recoils at the annoying return of a "clammy little bugger" of a frog. "No, sir," pipes up the frog, "That was my grandfather."
The frog was charmingly played by Ben Fletcher, his colleague children from Trinity Boys Choir and Old Palace School all taking their woodland creature parts with confident body-language. Other forest denizens, both humans and creatures, were sung by adults, all of them entering with enthusiasm into the picture-book communicativeness of Thomas Henderson's stage direction and Laura Pearse's design. Memorable among these portrayals were Kitty Whately's flea-ridden Dog and Elizabeth Cragg's pouty Chief Hen.
To the title-role of Vixen Sharp-Ears Elena Tsallagova brought both a shrewd sense of opportunism (clad in smart 1920s fashion garb this was a Thoroughly Modern Vixen) and a touching vulnerability, which made her love scene with Angela Brower's ardent and besotted Fox so powerful. When Sharp-Ears realised she was pregnant out of wedlock her distraughtness turned to joy as Fox organised a hasty wedding, at which Simon Halsey's CBSO Chorus cavorted and rejoiced in a choir-stalls knees-up.
Henderson had given us a very early introduction to the Fox's presence, having come onstage to bestow a fur stole onto Sharp-Ears, symbolising her move into adulthood; Catherine Mulroy had been irresistible as the bespectacled teenage Vixen.
Such were the insights not always appreciated across the opera-house footlights, and there were, too, so many insights from Mirga Grazinyte-Tyla's CBSO, playing with a well-paced, flexible balance of textures and detail. This was a magnificent team performance, but from this fabulous squad I must pick out the horn section, gloriously evocative of the forest glades and dappling light and shade.
Christopher Morley

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