Leoš Janáček, The Cunning Little Vixen, Théâtre du Châtelet, directed by Nicholas Hytner and conducted by Charles Mackerras
Part of the success of the Cunning Little Vixen depends on the audience being drawn into a convincing and enchanting animal world, with the contrasting human world visible at the fringes. Ezio Toffolutti's beautiful stage design and costumes were highly effective in realising this goal, and the inclusion of the young vixen playing with a large acorn in front of the stage was a nice touch, drawing us in before the performance began. The cock's costume was so designed that, when the vixen attacks him, he could literally run around like a headless chicken. Fun games were also played with scale and perspective; when the forester entered an enormous leg (a la Monty Python, but booted) appeared at the side of the stage. When he captured the vixen a giant hand descended, grasping an over-sized tail.Read the whole thing. Thanks, Martin! I think this opera works best the closer the production is in style to the comic strips that inspired it, which Janáček saw in the Lidove noviny newspaper. The DVD that I had from Netflix last summer (see Amazon link above) records the garishly bright and cartoonish Théâtre du Châtelet production, with the Orchestre de Paris and with Eva Jenis as Sharp-Ears, Hana Mutillo as her mate, and Thomas Allen as the Forester. (Unlike the production that Martin saw in Berlin, the opera was sung in Czech.) My two-year-old watched this production several times with me (none of them from beginning to end) and was fascinated by the music and especially the colorful ballet of animals and insects. To this day, he has asked to see the "opera with a fox" so many times that we are going to break down and buy the DVD ourselves. However, now I can't decide if I should instead buy the new film of the opera, from BBC Television, that is actually a cartoon. (Although you can buy it from Amazon, the opera is abridged and sung in English.)
Janáček completed the opera when he was 70 years old (see my post about another opera created late in a composer's life, Monteverdi's Poppea), after seeing the cartoons and spending time in the more rural setting of his home village, Hukvaldy (see my post from August 2, 2004), to watch the foxes at play. When he died, according to Janáček's written wishes, the final scene of this opera, when the old forester sees the offspring of the vixen running through the forest, was performed at his funeral.