Sizeable Llandudno audience rewarded with memorable performance of WNO’s Cunning Little Vixen

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Janáĉek, The Cunning Little Vixen (sung in Czech): Soloists, Orchestra of Welsh National Opera / Tomáš Hanus (conductor). Theatre Cymru, Llandudno, 31.10.2019

Aiofe Miskelly (Vixen) & Lucia Cervoni (Fox) (c) Richard Hubert Smith

Director – David Pountney
Associate Director & Choreographer – Elaine Tyler-Hall
Original Choreographer – Stuart Hopps
Designer – Maria Bjørnson
Lighting designer – Nick Chelton

Vixen – Aoife Miskelly
Fox – Lucia Cervoni
Forester – Claudio Otelli
Forester’s Wife – Kezia Bienek
Cockerel – Michael Clifton-Thompson
Chief Hen – Meriel Andrew
Parson – Wojtek Gierlach
Schoolmaster – Peter Van Hulle
Poacher (Harašta) – David Stout
Innkeeper – Martin Lloyd
Innkeeper’s Wife – Sarah Pope
Dog – Helen Greenaway
Badger – Laurence Cole
Mosquito – Joseph Doody
Jay – Sian Meinir
Owl – Paula Greenwood
Woodpecker – Hanna Liisa Kirchin
Dancers and Children

Janáček’s opera has a simple plot in which the local Forester captures a young vixen. He takes her home, something of a fatal mistake for his hens. After killing his hens, she escapes, marries, rears a family and, in a moment of provocation, is shot by a poacher. The story relates a bittersweet fairy-tale world filled with larger than life creatures whose lives are inextricably linked with their human counterparts and to the relationship between man and animals and particularly with the frequent misunderstandings between the two. In relating this relationship Janáček delves into a philosophy of life itself. In this 1980 production by Sir David Pountney, retiring Chief Executive of Welsh National Opera, he creates a wonderland of the relationship between man and his environment and its other life forms. It is a philosophical fable set to complex music on which the storyline is outlined and balanced.

The stage set is a wonder in itself, easily adaptable when needed. Above all it needs singing actors of the highest order to live the story as animals or narrators or simply passing humans. The burden of the major part of the story lies on the shoulders, acting ability and sung narration by a vivacious Aiofe Miskelly. Lithe of figure she creates a masterful characterisation whilst singing with her bright soprano. Hers is one of the best interpretations I have seen on the operatic stage in a long time, even to the extent of emotional involvement and feeling bereft as Vixen is shot and lays there dead. If her acting and singing were a tour de force of the performance, I cannot think of sufficient words of phrase that adequately describes Tomáš Hanus’s management of the orchestra in music that requires matching élan with the accuracy needed by the composer in his creation. His careful support of his singers matched the demands made on the orchestra and both rose to the occasion quite magnificently. The fact that the theatre was significantly fuller than for Rigoletto the previous night (review click here) says much for his reputation and fulfillment of this complex work along with the participants and David Pountney’s iconic staging.

In leaving other named singers until after my comments on the conducting, I do not mean to demean their individual contributions to the whole success of the evening. Everyone taking part played his or her part in a memorable performance. If I only mention Claudio Otelli’s Forester, Wojtek Gierlach’s Parson and WNO regular David Stout’s Poacher it is not to belittle the others, but simply to say these contributions were particularly notable. The whole left very high expectations in respect of Tomáš Hanus’s projected Janáĉek cycle.

Robert J Farr

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