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22.5.09

Cunning Little Parisian Vixen

available at Amazon
Janáček, The Cunning Little Vixen, E. Tsallagova, Opéra national de Paris, D. R. Davies

(released on April 28, 2009)
Medici Arts 3078388
Leoš Janáček is one of my favorite composers of the 20th century, especially for his operas. There is a special place in my heart for Příhody Lišky Bystroušky (the Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears, or as it is more commonly known, The Cunning Little Vixen), like Janáček himself, who asked that this opera's closing scene be performed at his funeral. In addition to the cartoon version -- based on the comic strip The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears by Rudolf Těsnohlídek and Stanislav Lolek -- and the colorful Châtelet production, previously recommended, this new DVD is worth a look, too. For one of the last stagings of the Gerard Mortier era at the Opéra national de Paris (and the opera's first-ever production for that company), André Engel (a theater director who has recently made a few forays into opera) set the work not in a forest but at the intersection of rural and urban life: a field of sunflowers crossed by train tracks, which end in a rail station standing in for the Forester's house.

The appeal of this version is that it is more for adults than children, although the opera has plenty of appeal for all ages. Here the bright colors of the sets (designed by Nicky Rieti) and whimsical costumes of the animals and insects (designed by Élizabeth Neumuller) are contrasted by the drabness of the human, industrial world. The staging also plays up the parallel between the Forester's attachment to the young fox he catches -- played here by the attractive young Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova, a member of the Atelier Lyrique, the Opéra national de Paris's young artist program -- and the fantasy desire of all the male characters for the village vixen, Terynka. The cast sings and acts exceptionally well, especially Tsallagova's Vixen and mezzo-soprano Hannah Esther Minutillo, who is costumed as a dead ringer for Eric Stoltz's character in Pulp Fiction.

Jukka Rasilainen's Forester is a man at the edge of craziness, drinking with his bachelor friends (David Kuebler's school master and Roland Bracht's parson) and found sitting in the snow, with a wreath of flowers on his head, looking for the vixen who got away. Members of two children's choruses -- the Maîtrise des Hauts-de-Seine and the company's own Choeur d'enfants -- sing beautifully and provide considerable charm as mosquitos, frogs, flies, and later the foxes' many children (choreography by Françoise Grès). The whimsical image of a caterpillar flying a kite is among the production's most memorable parts. The only drawback is the uninspired conducting of Dennis Russell Davies, who is no Charles Mackerras when it comes to Janáček. Happily, this production returns to the Bastille stage in the summer of 2010, with a mostly different cast and conductor Michael Schønwandt, just in time for my next visit.

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