La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in Florence

by Giuseppe Pennisi 

Italians are not fond of fairy tales. There is very little Italian literature of that kind, even of high quality fantastic books and novels. The same applies to music theatre. Attempts to develop an Italian “Zauberoper” in the 19th and 20th Century were – by-and-large – doomed to fail. The Japanese, particularly love their fairy tales, with its long literary roots, plus a very rich musical theatre. Leóš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody Lišky Bystroušky), a fable set to musical theatre, lands in Florence in a new co-production with the Japanese Saito Kinen Festival, with Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa as the musical director. Frenchman Laurent Pelly, a rising star of international theatre, is the stage director and the costume designer, whilst the set are entrusted to Barbara De Limburg Stirum. The Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (one the best in Italy) and an international cast of 13 soloists – to cover nearly 25 different characters - complete the playbill. 

On opening night (November 8, 2009), the fable enchanted, indeed enthralled, the Florentine audience and European critics reviewers. There was considerable interest in Seiji Ozawa, as he has reduced his conducting duties to a comparatively small number of fully staged operas every year. There was also interest in Laurent Pelly’s stage direction, especially after the semi-flop of his Traviata in Santa Fé and Turin – the entire plot was set in the Parisian Père-Lachaise grave yard. The Cunning Little Vixen has been seldom staged in Italy, even though in the last ten years the opera was seen at the Spoleto Festival, La Scala and La Fenice. 

The opera was based on a novel published by installments on a Brnò’s daily paper, as a set of cartoons giving life to both human and animal characters. The cartoons compare and confront two different worlds: the gritty, petty and hypocritical lower middle class of a small town, and the healthy and generous animals of a nearby woods. There, the animals – first of all the cunning little vixen – live in full freedom and nature regenerates itself. The action does not have a dramatic development (like Jenufa, Kat’ia or Makropoulos) but is made up of a number of episodes welded into a coherent structure by the music – mostly by a continuous forest’s murmur. In the middle of the third act, the vixen is shot by the gamekeeper, but with a real coup de theatre, in the final scene of the opera she seems to appear again in full bloom and with her very cunning eyes. In short, the forces of nature are stronger than that of mankind; sensual and physical love are at the root of such a strength, an optimistic outcome of Janáček’s meditation on death and rebirth, which is the dominant theme of his three last operas. In Janáček’s biography, his friend Adolf E. Vaseck recalls that, at the composer’s request, at his funeral service, the Orchestra of the Brnò National Opera played the end of The Cunning Little Vixen as an anthem to the eternity of nature. 

Seiji Ozawa chooses the meditation on death and rebirth as the key element of his musical direction. His baton strikes the right balance between melancholic Slavic melody and Richard Strauss’s pagan and pantheistic symphonic approach. He also draws up front Debussy’s influence on The Cunning Little Vixen's orchestration - Janáček knew both La Mer and Pelléas quite well. The Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino provided the right tinta in both the forest and the urban setting. 

Pelly’s stage direction and costumes and Barbara De Limburg Stirum’s sets are visionnaire - viz a blown up vision of a naturalistic staging. The forest is lush and at the same time almost somber. 

In the excellent international cast, two singers stand out: Isabel Bayrakdarian, the sexy and sensual cunning vixen, and Quinn Kelsey, the brash, albeit, reflective gamekeeper.

THE PLAYBILL

THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN

Leóš Janàček
text and music

Seiji Ozawa conductor
Laurent Pelly stage director and customs designer
Barbara de Limburg Stirum sets
Lionel Hoche choreography
Peter van Praet
lighting

Quinn Kelsey
The Gamekeeper

Judith Christin
His Wife, The Owl

Dennis Petersen
The Schoolmaster,The Mosquito

Kevin Langan
The Priest, The Badger

Gustáv Belácek
Harašta, a tramp

Federico Lepre
Pásek, The Innkeeper

Marcella Polidori
Páskova, His Wife

Isabel Bayrakdarian
Bystrouška, the Cunning Little Vixen

Lauren Curnow
The Fox

Eleonora Bravi
Bystrouška as a Child

Elena Mascii
Frantík

Riccardo Zurlo
Pepík

Marie Lenormand
Lapák, the Dog

Mayumi Kuroki
The Cock

Gregorio Spotti
The Grasshopper

The Hen
Elena Cavini
Gabriella Cecchi
Laura Lensi
Delia Palmieri
Sarina Rausa
Maria Rosaria Rossini
Maria Livia Sponton
Nadia Sturlese


The other animals of the wood


Carlotta Favino
Elena Mascii
Eleonora Bravi
Alessia Marchiani
Riccardo Zurlo
Pietro Achatz Antonelli


The little foxes

Leone Barilli

Paola Fazioli
Kristina Grigorova
Margherita Mana
Gaia Mazzeranghi
Christine Vezzani
Judith Vincent
Paolo Arcangeli
Michelangelo Chelucci
Cristiano Colangelo
Antonio Guadagno
Zhani Lukaj
Pierangelo Preziosa



Orchestra and Chorus of the Maggio
Musicale Fiorentino
Piero Monti
Chorusmaster

Soloists of MaggioDanza

The Children Chorus of Florencee
Marisol Carballo Chorusmaster

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