We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, June 30, 2014


The Fox Family and the Forester

It is difficult to believe that Leoš Janáček wrote his own libretto for The Cunning Little Vixen based on a child's comic strip.  As if a child could comprehend those deep philosophical ideas!  The 1926 work deals with man's relationship to the natural world and shows a deeply compassionate but unsentimental view of the cycles of birth and death.

The feisty vixen is captured by the Forester who brings her home as a pet.  When she attacks the rooster and hens, she is tied up.  But she escapes in search of freedom and finds a mate. After a shotgun wedding, they start a family but she meets her sad end (as people also sometimes do) due to an overweening sense of invulnerability.

Staging this opera with its anthropomorphisation is always a challenge but it has been done successfully thrice this year--once by Juilliard, once by the New York Philharmonic and this past weekend by Manhattan School of Music Summer Voice Festival.  We are happy to report that Pat Diamond did a splendid job. directing with much flair. 

The young singers managed their roles well and sang beautifully.  Sadly, diction was poor with the exception of the fine baritone Isaac Assor (The Forester) who made every word count.  We regret never having heard the work in Czech but acknowledge that Czech is a most difficult language to master. 

But we also notice that the English adaptation by J. David Jackson did not quite fit the stresses of the English words to the musical stresses.  This probably contributed to the difficulty we had in comprehending the words.  There were no titles to help.  If you want a word-for-word translation you can find it at http://www.supraphon.com/en/catalogue/librettos/.  We  warrant you will enjoy the risqué dialogue and the Vixen's protofeminism as much as we did.

Fortunately, the effective acting made the action clear.  Sopranos Kelsey Fredriksen and Mikayla Sager were adorable as the feisty Vixen and her mate Golden Mane.  We enjoyed Chorong Kim as the Forester's dog.  Bass Richard Burgess Block played the Badger and the Parson.  Baritone Sean Currlin sang the role of the Poacher who takes the Vixen's life.

Abigail Shapiro as the Rooster and Erica Reynolds as the Hen captured perfectly the body language of the fowl.  Furthermore, their costumes (David O. Roberts) were outstanding.  In a triumph of imagination the hens were dressed as housewives with white doilies and red ribbons as headdresses.  The rooster, naturally, sported a coxcomb.

All the animals and insects were cleverly costumed, especially the Hedgehog (tenor Michael Papincak) who also sang the Innkeeper.  Wigs and Make-up Design by Derek Robertson were particularly effective for the foxy couple.

Set design by Ann Bartek was minimal--a brick wall with flowers painted on and another white wall behind a table and chairs.  Lighting by Scott Bolman was effective in suggesting various times of day.

Musical values were superb.  Conductor J. David Jackson brought out all the folk motives and harmonies we love so much in Janáček's music.  The orchestra responded with a warm enveloping sound.  The vocal music leans toward the conversational and only The Forester has an aria.

To us, the point being made was how much alike are humans and animals.  We humans are animals; we are not them but we are OF them.  Respect for their well-being is called for.  They live, they hunger, they mate, they thrive, they suffer, they die, just as we do. An unintended consequence of the opera may be some second thoughts about hunting!

© meche kroop

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