WNO Cunning Little Vixen review

CLASSIC JANACEK PRODUCTION NEEDS MORE CARE

THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN

Welsh National Opera at Birmingham Hippodrome ***

"That wasn't me" chirrups a frog, at the end of Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen. "That was my grandfather". We're reaching the point where audiences at Welsh National Opera's 39-year old production will be able to say the same thing. That's no criticism: David Pountney's cushiony slice of Czech countryside and the touches of magic that bring it to life – umbrellas opening into spring flowers; the birds suspended in their rocking chairs; the snow visibly melting – are as fresh as ever. It's still hard to imagine a more perfect visualisation of Janáček's miraculous little hymn to life.
And under Tomáš Hanus's musical direction, it polished up a treat. Hanus's bold, primary coloured strokes created a vivid setting for a delightfully no-nonsense cast. Hats off, as ever, to the chickens (Michael Clifton-Thompson was an amusingly chinless Cockerel); to David Stout's earthy-voiced Harašta, and Peter van Hulle's plaintive Schoolmaster – played, gently, for the kind of laughs that make you look twice at yourself. Claudio Otelli's Forester brought a sternness and a lived-in lyricism that made his rapturous final scene all the more moving.
At the heart of it all was Aoife Miskelly's gawky, madcap Vixen – scampering around the set, and really dancing over Janáček's vocal writing too, before finding in Lucia Cervoni's fox Golden-Mane a partner whose voice simply melted into her own. The love duet was positively steamy. Unhappily, a series of technical glitches culminated in a disastrous breakdown in co-ordination between orchestra and offstage singers, with screeches of electronic feedback prompting a horrible thought: were we actually hearing a live chorus? I'm sure we were, but the point stands. Three stars, sorry: revivals of classic productions need more care, not less.
Richard Bratby

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