In this revival by Elaine Tyler-Hall, with an updated racy translation, David Pountney’s 33-year old production of The Cunning Little Vixen has lost none of its magnetism.
If anything, by being paired with Pountney’s new take on Berg’s Lulu under the shared theme of Free Spirits, it now has even greater relevance to contemporary issues.
To an extent both operas are concerned with exploitation, gender politics and personal freedom.
In Janáek’s cartoon-like tale of animals versus humans (and each other) the conflicts may be alluringly presented – the timeless magic of the late Maria Bjørnson’s sets sees to that – but are no less devastating in their tragic outcomes.
Sophie Bevan’s lustrously voiced Vixen Sharp-Ears combines gambolling legs-in-the-air coquettishness with a cheerfully amoral relish in despatching her victims and ensnaring a suitor.
She does all the running and her exultant love duet with Fox – the excellent Sarah Castle – is a pivotal moment.
The simple humour of the piece is focused on the animals, notably Julian Boyce’s bolshy Dog, Laurence Cole as an outraged Badger forced out of his den by Sharp-Ears, and Meriel Andrew’s strutting Chief Hen who, along with her clucking companions, Vixen slaughters in a fit of pique.
On a more serious level, though not without comic overtones, are the main human characters – Peter Van Hulle’s lovelorn Schoolmaster, Richard Angas as the creepy Parson, and the bucolic Poacher of David Stout – all acted and sung with considerable presence.
In the crucial role of the Forester Jonathan Summers is a commanding vocal and dramatic presence, who conveys frustration and accepts defeat with equal persuasion.
Conductor Lothar Koenigs brings a romantic glow and tonal richness to Janáek’s teeming, colourful score that at times threatens to overwhelm the singers, but it sounds quite wonderful and is extremely well played.