Staged in Czech with Czech and English surtitles.
Premiere 17th November 2018 in the Janáček Theatre
Nature has inscribed a circle around me which I cannot leave, so I sit within and learn to love life.
No opera is so connected with Brno and its surroundings as Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, and so the new production, which ceremonially opens the 6th year of the festival, will be the work of the National Theatre Brno’s Janáček Opera. For the first time one of the best Czech directors, Jiří Heřman, is entering the world of Janáček’s operas. Each of Janáček’s operas is original and the Vixen is no different, with human and animal lives interwoven on stage. It is lyrical and melodic, sparkling with humour, kind and with a little of Janáček’s prickliness at the same time and and taking on the earthiness and humane philosophy of life of the eternal cycle of life. At the beginning of the story about the cunning vixen was the decision by the Brno editors of the Lidove noviny newspaper to provide their readers with cartoons with humorous texts. The Janáček household were regular readers of Lidový noviny and the drawn stories caught the composer’s interest, but from the original chapters of the series he chose only ten. Těsnohlídek’s tale ends with the wedding of Bystrouška and Zlatohřbítek. However Janáček resolved to make a significant change compared to the original draft and allowed the main character to die, since as a true dramatist he felt the need for a catharsis.
Is it a fairy tale, or… were we really once so young? The whirring wings of a dragonfly outside the window remind us of the merciless advance of time, and of course it is a new dragonfly, from one of several generations that will appear over just one warm summer. A red-haired girl opens the window and the dragonfly swoops inside – it is as if the forest itself has come in, and with it the forester’s memories of his life.
The forester fell asleep in the woods. How couldn’t he, when the warm moss tempted him to lay himself down and rest upon it, and tell his wife that they had been waiting for thieves. The little fox cub sets off to investigate the forest, for there are so many strange things out there, like the green jumping frog which wakes the sleeping forester. The fox cub, transfixed by curiosity, is easy to catch. She calls for her mother too late, and the forester takes her back to the lodge to please his children, and himself.
The little fox cub grows up to become the vixen Sharp-Ears. She lives in the courtyard together with the dog Lapák, a flock of hens and a cockerel. It’s spring and Lapák is dreaming of love, but to no avail. Bystrouška has no experience either, but she can still remember what went on in the starling’s nest above her old den. The forester’s son Pepík shows off to Frantík by poking the vixen with a stick, but that ends up with him being bitten nicely in the calf. A fox is no dog, after all. The forester’s wife makes a scene and the vixen has to be tied up. The hens are happy – no more being chased around the courtyard, and the fox has got its just deserts. The vixen makes a revolutionary speech, appealing to the hens to overthrow the cockerel’s rule. When that doesn’t work out, she pretends to be dead. Nudged into action by the hens, the cockerel goes to check if the vixen has really passed away. One bite later, and the cockerel’s head is in the vixen’s mouth. And why stop at the cockerel - Sharp-Ears goes to work on the hens, and the forester’s wife, brought to the yard by all the racket, nearly has a heart attack when she sees it. “Husband, shoot that fox!” she yells, but the vixen is swifter and all that can be seen of her is her red tail disappearing into the forest.
Sharp-Ears finds the freedom she’s been dreaming of among the trees, but she also needs somewhere to live. She doesn’t hesitate to expel a grumpy old badger from his den, to the great amusement of the other woodland animals.
At Mr Pásek’s pub there’s a familiar gathering under way – the forester, a gruff pastor and a schoolmaster sighing over his secret love. The forester is teasing him. For his comic song about the virgin to whom for years the schoolmaster has been too scared to proclaim his love, the forester earns a biting question as to how he’s getting on with that fox he brought home. “It ran away, and I won’t be looking for it,” he growls. Inebriated, the schoolmaster gets up to go, and the pastor follows him. He has to pack because he’s leaving for another parish and the new tenants are already waiting. The forester would love to tarry a while longer in the company of his old friends, but his attempts to convince them to stay fall on deaf ears. So, he also heads for home through the forest.
The drunken schoolmaster weaves his way home thinking about his beloved Terynka. “Wait, I love you!” he cries as he stumbles after an apparition. The mind of the pastor, who is also well in his cups, is invaded by thoughts of how a lost love once hurt him – she was beautiful, eyes as deep as a well, and so all the worse was her betrayal. Both fall asleep in the quiet of the forest. The forester is also there, and when he catches a glimpse of the vixen, he decides to take a pot shot at her. The only thing he almost manages to hit is the terrified schoolmaster as he rushes to get out of rifle range.
One night, in the glade where Sharp-Ears goes on her nightly wanders, who should appear but a dog fox named Gold-Spur. He’s a good-looking youth and Sharp-Ears can’t keep her eyes off him. They shyly get acquainted and Sharp-Ears tells him about her childhood at the forester’s lodge. "I mustn’t let anyone else have her", the dog fox decides. He disappears, only to quickly reappear with a gift in the form of a rabbit. Sharp-Ears is bashful at first, but Gold-Spur’s sincere declaration of love wins her over.
The forest has a new scandal! Sharp-Ears is with Gold-Spur, and there’s not even been a proper wedding! The owl’s eyes almost fell out when she was telling everyone. Meanwhile Sharp-Ears informs Gold-Spur that their love has not been without consequence. There’s nothing else for it but to go to see the pastor. The woodpecker marries Sharp-Ears and Gold-Spur, and the whole forest celebrates the wedding.
Summer dissolves into the colours of autumn, and these in turn vanish beneath a cloak of snow. But earlier than anyone anticipates, spring is here again, and then another summer and autumn. The forester meets Harašta in the woods. Is he really only going for poultry for the market, or is it another poacher? Harašta swears blind that he’s no poacher, but just in case the forester hasn’t noticed there’s a dead hare lying in the clearing. The forester remembers Sharp-Ears and sets a trap for her. The fox family has been growing well and the parents have their hands full keeping an eye on their curious little offspring. Sharp-Ears doesn’t fail to spot the dead hare, but she also sees the metal trap that’s lying in wait for her. Harašta spots the vixen’s tail. He plans to marry, and it would make a pretty gift for his bride-to-be. He grabs a stick and heads after the fox, but the woodland creatures get under his feet and Harašta ends up with a bump on his nose. Sharp-Ears and her cubs take the opportunity to go through his pack with the poultry in it. Harašta shoots her.
Things aren’t particularly jolly at the pub. Pásek has gone to Brno and his wife complains that she hasn’t got time to chat with her guests. The pastor is missing, and the schoolmaster is down in the dumps because his secret love is getting married today. The friends part earlier than usual and the forester heads home through the forest once again. Everything reminds him of his youth, and the day of his wedding. How long ago it seems… and a little vixen, curious, nuzzles up to the forester. She’s the spitting image of her mother. Time flies - "it’s not me, it was my grandpa," says the frog. It as if life stopped for just a second, and a second lasted a whole lifetime. The circle has closed, and yet it keeps turning on…
The production of The Cunning Little Vixen on 18 November 2018 will be broadcast live on-line as a part od the project OPERA VISION.
More information at www.operavision.eu