Lightning Strikes Twice – The Glimmerglass Festival’s Cunning Little Vixen Is a Winner

26/07/2018

The Glimmerglass Festival [2] – Janáček, The Cunning Little Vixen: Soloists, The Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra and Chorus / Joseph Colaneri (conductor), Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, 21.7.2018. (RP)

 Joanna Latini (the Vixen) and Alyssa Martin (the Fox) with Lilly Grady, Catie LeCours and Maggie Stephens (their kits) in The Cunning Little Vixen © Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Joanna Latini (the Vixen) & Alyssa Martin (the Fox)
with Lilly Grady, Catie LeCours & Maggie Stephens (their kits)
in The Cunning Little Vixen © Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Cast:
The Vixen – Joanna Latini
The Forester – Eric Owens
The Fox – Alyssa Martin
The Frog – Emma Novak
Young Vixen – Lilly Grady
Frantik – Catie LeCours
Pepik – Maggie Stephens
The Parson/Badger – Zachary Owen
Schoolmaster/Mosquito – Dylan Morrongiello
Harasta/Wolf – Wm. Clay Thompson
Forester’s Wife/Screech Owl – Kayla Siembieda
Lapak/Squirrel – Katherine Maysek
The Rooster/The Jay – Amber R. Monroe
Pasek /Boar – Brian Wallin
Pasek’s Wife/Woodpecker/Head Hen – Gretchen Krupp
Hen/Dragonfly/Dancer – Olivia Barbieri
Hen/Dragonfly/Dancer – Anju Cloud
The Cricket/Hen – Michelle Arotsky
The Grasshopper/Hen – Rachel Kay

Production:
Director – E. Loren Meeker
Set Designer – Ryan McGettigan
Choreographer – Eric Sean Fogel
Costume Designer – Erik Teague
Lighting Designer – Mark McCullough
Hair & Makeup Designer – Dave Bova
Chorus Master – Katherine Kozak

The armchair critics, as opposed to we online types, were discussing the prior two days’ performances at the Glimmerglass Festival over Sunday breakfast. From what I overheard the opinions ran something like this. For music, the winner hands down was The Barber of Seville, although the sets were a disappointment. The Cunning Little Vixen received raves for the costumes, but it was a bit modern for their tastes. West Side Story was deemed the best of the lot, with a special nod to the great sets and terrific dancing.

I didn’t get to the Bernstein, so I’ll just have to take their word for it, but it is a hot ticket. As for me, I simply cannot find a fault with either of the 2018 Glimmerglass Festival’s productions that I had seen up to that point. I ended my review of The Barber of Seville with ‘Opera doesn’t get much better than this’. Leaving the theater the following day after a matinee performance of The Cunning Little Vixen, I was thinking pretty much the same thing.

Time and reality are suspended in The Cunning Little Vixen, which is as much a meditation on love, death and the passing of time as it is a fairy tale. The playfulness of the first act is eclipsed by the Vixen being shot and her pelt being turned into a muff for the hunter’s soon-to-be wife. For the bittersweet ending, when the Forester acquiesces to the passage of time, Janáček composed music of transcendent beauty. He requested it be played at his funeral and it was.

The tension between the Forester’s desire to tame the Vixen and his affection for her spunk was perfectly captured by Eric Owens. He brings a powerful voice to his portrayal of mythical gods, but as the Forester his bass was lyrical and imbued with a warmth that touched the heart. World-weary and saddened to hear of the Vixen’s fate, he came out of his slumber to find a world populated by her kits.

Joanna Latini was the Vixen, with a devilish streak that was never tamed and only death could extinguish. Lithe and quick, she scampered across the stage with her eyes glistening and a devil-may-care attitude; her singing was marked by a similar agility and sparkle. A rabble rouser in the farm yard, the Vixen challenged the Rooster’s dominion over the hens, summing up their plight as ‘Obey and lay! Everyday!’ Later, after her was heart was won by the handsome, shaggy-haired fox played by Alyssa Martin, she popped out kits as fast as the hens had dropped their eggs, and with the same astonished look on her face.

Erik Teague’s costumes were indeed delightful. The birds, animals, amphibians and insects were dressed as if they were going to a fancy-dress ball. Some of the singers played humans too, but by comparison they were rather a dull lot.

The birds of the forest and the barnyard fowl particularly stoked the imaginations of Teague and director E. Loren Meeker, and they bestowed each one, including the individual hens, with costumes and perfectly etched idiosyncratic movements that any bird watcher would just love. Kayla Siembieda’s Screech Owl peering through a magnifying glass from atop the tree, Amber R. Monroe’s strutting Blue Jay and macho Rooster, and Gretchen Krupp’s meddlesome Woodpecker and frantic Head Hen were among the standouts.

The insect world didn’t fare badly either. Olivia Barbieri and Anju Cloud as the two Dragonflies were like dive-bombers in their helmets and iridescent wings, while the red-goggled Mosquito of Dylan Morrongiello was all nervous energy, his stinger a wooden cane. You just wanted to swat him.

The set was dominated by a large tree, the limbs of which were made out of curving strips of laminated wood. The owl was perched in its upper branches, while below its roots was the den of the Badger, portrayed by Zachary Owen draped in a heavy fur cloak sporting long, menacing claws. It wasn’t all fun and games though, as the forest floor was set with traps that the Vixen seemed perfectly adept at springing, and hunters stalking the woods were a constant threat.

The Forester’s home and chicken coop, as well as the inn that he frequented, were made of rough boards, chain link fencing and corrugated metal roofing. Examples of the taxidermist’s art hung from the wall of the tavern, including a fox, foreshadowing the Vixen’s fate.

Mark McCullough’s lightening was especially effective with the backdrop alternating between shades of blue, orange and teal green until the Vixen was shot. Instantly, she was silhouetted against a blaze of stark white light, the moment that she died frozen in time, until the stage was drenched in red and she collapsed.

Janáček called for a large force, and the score is awash with lush and brilliant orchestral colors. Joseph Colaneri was in total control and paced the performance beautifully. Instead of the brilliance and forward propulsion that he had achieved in the Rossini the previous evening, the sounds that emerged from the pit were luminous and throbbing with emotion.

The opera ended as Owens beamed with delight upon realizing that the perky frog he encountered was the grandson of the one who had jumped into his lap when pursued by the Vixen on the day the fairy tale began. The story of the Vixen and the Forester was a legend among the denizens of the forest too.

Rick Perdian

The 2018 Glimmerglass Festival runs through 25 August 2018, for more information, click here.

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