Friday 15 June 2012

The Cunning Little Vixen, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, 13 June 2012

Glyndebourne Opera House

The Vixen – Lucy Crowe
Fox – Emma Bell
Forester – Sergei Leiferkus
Forester’s Wife, Owl – Jean Rigby
Parson, Badger – Mischa Schelmoianski
Schoolmaster, Mosquito – Adrian Thompson
Harašta – William Dazeley
Innkeeper – Colin Judson
Innkeeper’s Wife – Sarah Pring

Melly Still (director)
Tom Pye (designs)
Dinah Collin (costumes)
Paule Constable (lighting)

Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski (conductor)

A performance of The Cunning Little Vixen can hardly fail to be a joy, and likewise can hardly fail to move. This new production at Glyndebourne – by now, some way into its run – proved no exception. Above all, it would be difficult truly to fault the cast. One may have experienced favoured portrayals in the past, but there was no weak link here, no mean achievement with so multifarious a set of characters. It was good to hear Sergei Leiferkus remain in excellent vocal form as the Forester, even if I found Christopher Maltman at Covent Garden a couple of years ago provided a more individual, deeply moving portrayal. Lucy Crowe was certainly more than a match for her Royal Opera counterpart, Emma Matthews, a little more wayward than often one hears, but none the worse for that. Much the same might be said of Emma Bell, as the Fox. William Dazeley stood out from the rest as Harašta, but, as I said, there were no disappointments at all.

I was less sure about Vladimir Jurowski’s direction of the London Philharmonic. Jurowski’s disinclination to Romanticise the score was perfectly justified, though by the same token, there is nothing wrong with bringing out the echoes of Strauss and early Schoenberg. Similarly, there is much to be said for an approach that brings out the radical disjunctures in Janáček’s writing. Nevertheless, one needs a balance, or perhaps better a dialectic, between those disjunctures and the greater whole. There were occasions, and I do not wish to exaggerate, when the scales seemed unduly weighted towards the former. Unfortunately, this came into greatest relief at the end, when the ecstasy of Janáček’s closing bars seemed to have come almost from nowhere; the temptation to Romanticise seemed to have taken over to a degree that did not tally with the rest of the performance. Work in progress, perhaps, or maybe an indication that other late Janáček works, such as The Makropulos Case or From the House of the Dead might suit Jurowski better. The LPO was on excellent form, though there were times when it might have benefited from a larger body of strings.

Melly Still’s production seemed to have little to say about the work, beyond a slightly puzzling desire to elide the distinction between human and animal worlds. Where other directors, not unreasonably, have seen that as a crucial component of the opera, or have at least problematised the distinction, Still seemed content to present a quasi- and sometimes not-even-quasi-balletic conception of the opera. It was beautiful enough in its æstheticised way, but something more in the way of engagement with the life cycle – I think here especially of André Engel’s Lyon staging, later seen in Paris – would have been welcome. Whether one responded well to the more Carry On-like elements – the translation in the surtitles often veered in that direction too – will have been a matter of taste; I tend to think there is something rather more serious, both delightful and moving, at the core of this wonderful opera. Whether an interval, oddly placed in the middle of the second act, as long as the opera itself is appropriate may also be considered a matter for debate.