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<<  -- 2 --  Wilfrid Mellers    SECOND SIGHT


In the immediate present, however, the visionary humanising of the Vixen triggers a crisis, for when returned to foxyhood, she spots a flock of hens grubbing in the courtyard, her animal blood reasserts itself. No creature could be more servile than these cleverly-costumed clones who lay eggs, cackle, bear it and die on behalf of us humans. Appalled, the Vixen assaults the hens with politically revolutionary slogans as well as corporeal pounces, briskly slaying the lot. In the hubbub she snaps her tether, bowls over the Forester, and escapes into the wild woods. The act ends in beastly and avian squawks, interspersed with the Vixen's furiously triumphant cries, paradoxically compound both of her need for Nature's freedom and for her aspiration towards quasi-human consciousness. The end of the scene is abrupt, like the sudden break-offs that conclude Bruckner's symphonic allegros. The key is E flat major, dominant of deathly A flat minor -- and, indeed, Beethoven's key of human heroism, most conspicuously in the Eroica symphony.

If in the first act the gipsy-vixen's impact on the human world is potent, in the second act she seems to have learnt something from conscious humanity, even in our fallen state. The act begins in the forest, but outside the establishmentarian Badgers' set; the music is animal-like in its ostinato metres, but potentially human in its whole-tone, tritone-infested, teeterings. Hating what she considers to be the Badger's compromising temperament, she drives him out of, and herself 'occupies', his home. This may be a post-lapsarian act, for the scene ends starkly in A flat minor; and in the next scene Forester, Schoolmaster and Parson are glimpsed in the cosiness of the village Inn, drinking while chatting of the Old Times when they were in love, or in love with love. They are bamboozled by the Vixen, who becomes an illusory incarnation of their dreams and regrets. Hiding behind a giant sunflower, she inveigles them into the dark forest where in their lacrymosely tipsy state, they aspire with William Blake towards that 'sweet golden clime where the Traveller's journey is done'. The younger Forester, more in command of his liquor, spots the Vixen and yells aloud, thereby breaking the spell, so that the Vixen vanishes in a twinkling, and the Schoolmaster and Parson, robbed of their vision, totter morosely home. It's in this scene that we fully realise how magically inventive are the designs of Richard Hudson and the lighting of Colin Eastwood-Smith: which allows us to enter the magic wood totally forgetting that it is a theatrical illusion.

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Copyright © 29 September 2001 Wilfrid Mellers, York, UK




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