The Cunning Little Vixen
Samuel Beckett Theatre, TCD
Although inspired by simple cartoon pictures accompanying woodland stories in a local Czech newspaper, The Cunning Little Vixen must contain "nothing coy or sweet," says opera writer George Martin. "Neither dramatically nor musically did Janacek sentimentalise the story."
Nor do the Royal Irish Academy of Music and its partner Design for Stage and Screen (from the IADT in Dún Laoghaire) in their mind-blowing production. This is not Bambi and Thumper. With a bold, energetic sweep of artistic licence, the massive ensemble of woodland creatures has morphed into a riotous assembly of faintly animal-derived but essentially rather more gentle Mad Max extras who appear suddenly from all corners of the theatre and from the trapdoors, sheds and oblique structures of the ingenious set design by the Dún Laoghaire students, constructed by students from Trinity's Lir Academy.
Nor are they spear-carriers. Each creature is an individual study, not only in costume, hair, headgear and make-up, but also in personality and movement, reacting with subtle differences to the main action.
Yet, incredibly, director Lynne Parker avoids allowing any of this to upstage the principal characters in what is, really, a sequence of little tales about a hand-raised vixen returning to the woods, falling in love, starting a family. Her story is interspersed with glimpses of human lives: the Gamekeeper, the Poacher, the Teacher, the Priest, the Innkeeper.
The opera is periodic and sometimes hard to follow, and with the layers of artistic interpretation piled on here, it is difficult to know what anything means, or whether certain things mean anything. But it doesn’t matter. The whole thing is so energetic, so prodigiously imagined by an army of young creative minds, that it ends up being hugely stimulating.
It is not lost that Janacek was writing the opera as he turned 70 and was beginning to consider death. It’s why the Vixen dies, but also why Janacek ends the opera with the Gamekeeper spotting one of her cubs and remarking on the likeness.
Life goes on. Janacek's beautiful score sustains these ideas amid the mayhem of this production, and conductor David Adams ensures this with his polished ensemble.
It seems invidious to single out individuals form the enormous, accomplished cast. However, the Vixen of soprano Ioana Pipelea leads charismatically, nicely foiled by the refinement and cool of baritone Gyula Nagy as the Gamekeeper.
Ends January 18