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Fortunately, what was happening in the pit more than compensated for any dramatic longeurs. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more incisive orchestral performance, under the precise and perceptive direction of Jonathan Lyness. Janácek's sound-world is unique: how many operas do you know which begin with the violins playing col legno? And from the first bars that remarkable balance of brittleness and lyricism, inherent in the score, was audible. Throughout, the orchestral balance was excellent, not in a bland, homogenised way, but with each section of the orchestra strong yet controlled.

Ella Kirkpatrick as the Vixen and Wyn Pencarreg as the Badger, in Longborough Festival Opera's production of 'The Cunning Little Vixen'. Photo © 2008 Michael Dyer
Ella Kirkpatrick as the Vixen and Wyn Pencarreg as the Badger, in Longborough Festival Opera's production of 'The Cunning Little Vixen'. Photo © 2008 Michael Dyer

Vocally, the evening belonged -- properly -- to Vixen Sharp-Ears, in a performance of sustained intensity from Ella Kirkpatrick. Janácek himself characterised the opera as 'a merry piece with a sad end' but this vixen gave the lie to such a simplistic interpretation. Throughout, she was fuelled by the anger which manifests itself most openly just before she dies. 'Beat me?' she taunts the poacher. 'Kill me? Just because I'm a vixen.' Nor was too much made of her flirtatiousness, which is merely one weapon in her armoury of self-defence. Thus the scene with the forester's flea-bitten dog feels more like attempted rape, especially when set against the tender wooing by Christina Haldane's excellent dog-fox. The vixens' systematic slaughter of the silly hens and their boastful cockerel was also infused by that same rage which made it not malicious so much as a fair, if extreme, revenge for her own sufferings. The hens themselves (Helen Massey, Sian Cameron and Elizabeth Poirel) were delightfully fluttery, while Peter Wilman's cock strutted his stuff in a glorious display of misplaced machismo.

Ella Kirkpatrick as the Vixen, Peter Wilman as the Cock, with Helen Massey, Elisabeth Poirel and Sian Massey. Photo © 2008 Michael Dyer
Ella Kirkpatrick as the Vixen, Peter Wilman as the Cock, with Helen Massey, Elisabeth Poirel and Sian Massey. Photo © 2008 Michael Dyer

 

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Copyright © 3 July 2008 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK

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