Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

The Cunning Little Vixen

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama , Sherman Theatre Cardiff , July 1, 2004
The 150th anniversary of the birth of composer Leo_ Janá_ek coincides with the final performance of this production. His more ‘grand’ opera Katya Kabanova is in the current season of the Welsh National Opera. In the Cunning Little Vixen his touch may be a little lighter but the genius and power in his music is, here, equally moving and profound and with quite a lot of fun thrown in too. Nevertheless Janá_ek, characteristically does have to bring his leading female character to a sticky end towards the end of the story.

In a fable where the worlds of people and animals are interleaved there is obviously great opportunity for strong design and set and costume designer Corinna Everett succeeds magnificently. The stage looks beautiful, delicate and magical and the anthropomorphic animal costumes add a touch of gentle humour.

During the opening music we are introduced to an array of charmingly constructed puppet animals that we will meet in their two-legged form layer in the opera: the vixen of course, a badger, a frog, grasshoppers and very delicate dragonflies dancing over the heads of their puppeteers. The movement, at all times, is given some very exciting and very apposite choreography by director Tessa Gibbs who has also drawn her cast cleverly into the atmosphere and magic of the story.

The real life men in the story are preoccupied with love and the opposite sex. The long married forester sings to his rifle “You don’t grumble, you don’t nag” but he along with the parson and the schoolmaster he is very taken by an attractive young woman, the alter ego of the vixen, and are deeply troubled by their fantasies and memories. In the forest the vixen taunts the forester and he chases wildly after her, he captures her and takes her home where she is teased. The vixen tries to provoke a revolt among the hens, they fail and she kills them and escapes into the wood. There she meets a young fox and they are married by the woodpecker. They have many cubs, they find a trap and make fun of man’s incompetence but soon she is shot dead by Harasta, the poacher. In the final scene the forester is back in the forest, he sees a new young vixen and he reflects on the cycle of nature.

Eloise Routledge has a clear and accomplished singing voice and is completely captivating with her vixen characterisation. Carmen Medrano is a highly spirited fox companion. Craig Yates is a strong and reassuring Forester. Gareth Llewelyn creates a particularly interesting character as the schoolmaster. The whole cast master this challenging music exceedingly well and enter into the performance of their roles with great enthusiasm and conviction. As in his other operas Janá_ek builds his music on the sounds and rhythms of the spoken language and of the forest from the buzz of the insects to a sense of peaceful forest contemplation. This is mastered with considerable expertise by the student orchestra under the encouraging control of conductor Howard Williams.

This the first production following Donald Maxwell’s appointment as Head of Opera at the college and is yet another sign of the college’s determination to provide teaching at the highest level in all areas of the performing arts. As always I make no allowances for this being a student production. I am sure many established professional companies would be proud to produce work at this level.

Reviewed by: Michael Kelligan

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