The Cunning Little Vixon

The Cunning Little Vixon

By Leos Janácek

Houston Grand Opera

Wortham Center

Houston, TX

May 4-12, 2007

Produced by Chas Rader-Shieber

Lisa Saffer: Vixen Sharp-Ears

Hector Vásquez: Forester

Sung in English with English surtitles

Furry things are in the air in Houston right now Between Christopher Wheedlon’s Carnival of the Animals at the Houston Ballet and Houston Grand Opera’s production of Janá?ek’s A Cunning Little Vixon, you might say animal outfits are all the rage.

The Cunning Little Vixon is hardly a traditional opera. Functioning more like a continuous tone poem, don’t bother listening for arias and the like. Not to be found. The story, odd as it is, revolves around a Forester that captures Vixon Sharp-Ears to tame and keep around the house to entertain his kids, not an altogether smart idea. Sharp-Ears wreaks havoc on the household and leaves the domestic life for greater adventures in the wild. She moves into Badger’s house ( I guess he was not home), meets the love of her life, and has a litter of many. While frolicking in the woods with her brood, she is shot and killed by Harasta, a poacher. The Forester arrives, spies one of Sharp-Ears young offspring, and contemplates the renewal of life. Overall, the humans don’t fare so well in this libretto, and the animals are just a step up.

Soprano Lisa Saffer, making her HGO debut, is splendid as Vixon Sharp-Ears. Fiona Murphy’s pure of tone and heart is a perfect match for the role of Fox Golden-Stripe. Hector Vasquez captures the lumbering stoicism of the Forester and Conductor Patrick Summers lends a lively touch to Janá?ek’s somewhat lyrical, albeit unmelodious score.

Leslie Halla’s keen direction lends a magical touch. David Zinn’s sets resemble a giant pop-up story book. A continuously revolving collection of armories transform into cozy cottages, taverns, and other enchanting spaces that make for a visual feast. Zinn’s fanciful costumes create a kind of half-animal half-human hybrid species and add to the children’s book texture. Choreographer Daniel Pelzig fills the quiet with some marvelous dancing that is wonderfully woven throughout the narrative. Dancing faeries in suits and old fashioned dresses liven the landscape and keep the action moving. Still it’s a strange world, where neither animal nor human fully seem at ease .

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Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."