By Leos Janácek
Houston Grand Opera
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 .