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The Cunning Little Vixen

Leoš Janáček 1854–1928

Opera in 3 acts
Libretto by the composer
First performed November 6 1924, National Theater, Brno

This production first seen April 24 2016
Sung in Czech with German & English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 mins before performances begin and available here on video shortly before opening night

A cheeky fox cub meets a forester, who's drinking beer with the priest and schoolmaster at Pasek's kiosk, as usual. Although they come from two very different »social worlds«, they both sense in the other the chance for their lives to take on a new direction: the forester feels protective towards the impetuous young cub, who reawakens memories of his own vitality and long surpressed desires, she feels she can trust the older man and hopes for a better life that the one she's known until now. The vixen follows the forester home. Once there she throws the already troubled family totally off balance. Tolerated reluctantly by the forester's wife, and provoked by their sons, it's impossible for the vixen to adapt to the rules of the house. When she wakes up in the forester's bedroom – after a nightmare in which she killed a dictatorial cock – and her first period starts, the forester's wife's patience begins to wear thin. The forester, at his wife's bidding, threatens her, but he's torn between asserting his role as head of the household and his feelings for the wild creature, who takes the forester's knife and runs back to her block of flats. ACT II The vixen insolently drives a priest, ridden with phobias about women, from his flat. The forester tries to return to everyday life and forget about the vixen and his dreams. After another evening with the Paseks, the schoolmaster surrenders to his dream of the unattainable Terynka, and the priest remembers that, long ago, he was wrongfully accused of raping a young girl. The forester, thinking he's seen the vixen, fires two shots. The vixen meets a fox called Gold Mane. It's love at first sight. She's pregnant in next to no time. The next step is obvious to the fox: »We'll get married!« ACT III The woodman Haraschta teases the increasingly introverted forester about the fact that he's going to marry desirable Terynka, and shows him his wedding gift: a necklace. This doesn't stop the philanderer from flirting outrageously with Mrs Pasek. Haraschta says that he's seen a dead hare, which he left lying where he found it, to be on the safe side. A lot of young fox cubs romp around near the dead hare with the vixen and her husband. They laugh at a trap that's been set and find the necklace, which Haraschta forget about during his short »intermezzo« with Mrs Pasek. He comes back to look for his wedding gift, which is now hanging around the vixen's neck. During the wrangling over the necklace Haraschta steps in the trap; suddenly the vixen's stolen knife comes into play; and the woodman stabs her. In panic, he tries to cover his traces. Mrs Pasek, who saw everything, holds her tongue and covers for Haraschta. She and the schoolmaster notice that the forester seems to be getting even odder. Unable to get the vixen out of his mind, he intends to leave his former life and conventions behind him: his first step towards freedom. The acknowledgement of his own dreams and instincts makes it clear that the »flimsy« curtain between different levels of reality – dreams, memories, fantasies … – can lift, making a new dimension visible which, until now, was the preserve of inconspicuous animals like crickets, grasshoppers and frogs. For the forester these are no longer mute creatures in another, hidden world.

An energetic adolescent fox cub and a forester come into contact in Leoš Janáček’s impressionistic, beautiful opera. Lively and sensitive, poetic and speckled with irony it tells the eternal cycle of life and death. In so doing the composer manages to capture the tone of his beloved Slavic dance and folkmusic and imitate human and animal voices in a natural way. When he was nearly 70 years old Janáček was inspired to write this opera by a comic strip in a Brno daily paper (April - June 1920), which told the story of his animal heroine.

Director Ute M. Engelhardt brought the animal and human worlds even closer together in her Götz Friedrich Prize winning production while still managing to make the fantastic moments in the work, the characters’ longings, nightmares, dreams and fears come alive.