It may be customary for Janacek’s operas to be performed in their original Czech – and one knows that the rhythm of the music closely follows the rhythm of Czech speech – but The Cunning Little Vixen cries out for translation: its conversational libretto moves so fast that, with Czech, one’s gaze is of necessity firmly fixed on the surtitles.
And in Daniel Slater’s new production this problem is compounded by the fact that the stage is constantly filled with disorienting movement, with dancers shadowing the protagonists, and the costumed scene-shifters doing fussy little ballets of their own.
It’s as though Slater doesn’t trust the orchestral interludes to speak for themselves, despite conductor Garry Walker’s exemplary work in the pit, and the dance repeatedly diffuses the dramatic focus. But there is much to like here.
Slater evokes with sly wit the rutting sexuality governing both humans and animals in this tragicomic tale, and he lets the obsession of the Forester (Grant Doyle) with his captive vixen flower delicately, while the key encounters benefit from three outstanding singers.
Joshua Bloom is magnificent as the poacher Harasta, Victoria Simmonds makes a superbly debonair Fox, and Claire Booth’s Vixen is beyond compare, both in the way she moves and acts, and in the soaring beauty of her sound.