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Second Sight - Music with Wilfrid Mellers

12. Civilisation and the Savage State
Janácek's 'Vixen' at Opera North


<< Continued from Thursday

Among the human characters the Schoolmaster, as played by Nigel Robson, reveals the sadness within the farce of our cult of 'education, education, education', since he's presented as a blustery old buffer who remains vividly in character throughout the opera and, indeed, even into his hilarious curtain-call. The Parson, more or less equated with the Badger, as played by Richard Angas, is no less ambivalent, his God being even more illusory than the teacher's Teacher; the brilliant costumes (of both Parson and Badger) underline their easy dubiety between pomposity and pathos.

The action starts when the human world, in the form of the Forester, impinges on Nature's creatures. Accompanied by his faithful but lethal friend, his gun, he is on a hunt for poachers, who are human malefactors. Needing a brief nap, he reclines on the greensward while the creatures Edenically frolic around him -- and intermittently gobble one another up. A young Vixen, in this preludial scene played by a child, frisks in, startling a frog, who leaping to safety, lands on the forester's nose. Rudely awaked, the Forester spots the Vixen, the sight of whom releases the beast in him, as in us all. Animal-like, he pounces on her, carrying her home as a playmate for his kiddies. However appealing to the young, this is death for the Vixen, and the scene ends, tersely, in deathly seven-flatted A flat minor.

Time passes, as it will, and the scene moves to the Forester's lodge, on a sunny afternoon in autumn (the Fall). This brings us to the most wondrous aspect of this wonder-ful production: for the Vixen, almost grown up, is now played by an adult (and beautiful) soprano, who is uncowed but resentful of being fed, like a domestic cat, by the Forester's wife: who disapproves of the Vixen's dirty wildness while being oblivious of her beauty. Janis Kelly's portrayal of the Vixen reveals in every gesture of voice and body that she is a creature of Nature who is also the dream-girl whom Kamila Stösslová emphatically was not. The dancing and carolling vixen grows furious with the pet-dog's conventional complacency and with the riotous rowdiness of the Forester's children; but that human contact does not necessarily entail creature-corruption is manifest when the Vixen transforms herself into a radiant girl who humanly and angelically flies to G flat major love-music. (The Spirit of the Vixen is danced by Bernadette Iglich.) This transformation scene suggests that animals may be a gateway to rebirth -- certainly for Janácek, for the Forester, and possibly even for the Schoolmaster and Parson.

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Copyright © 29 September 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK




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