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Opera in 3 acts
Libretto by Leos Janacek based on a novel by Rudolf Tesnohlídek
German text by Peter Brenner based on Max Brod's translation
First performed on 6th November, 1924 in Brunn
Premiered at the Deutsche Oper Berlin on 30th June, 2000
For Children aged 10 and over
In German with German and English surtitles
2 h 15 mins / one interval
Introduction (in German language): 45 minutes before beginning; Rang-Foyer
Foresters wife, Woodpecker
Schoolmaster and sausage dog
Priest and badger
Frantik, Grasshopper and Jaybird
The opera gives us scenes from the life of Bystrouska, a young fox. The forester, who has never lost his desire for freedom and love, catches her in the forest one day and takes her home; to him she seems the embodiment of his desire. But Bystrouska manages to escape. In the woods she drives the badger from his set. In her new home she also meets the love of her life: a charming fox courts her and the lovers spend their first night together in the den. They finally wed, surrounded by the animals of the forest. Soon we see the vixen as the proud mother of a crowd of children. But their happiness is shortlived: Bystrouska is shot by the poacher Harasta. Meanwhile the forester and schoolmaster sit in the inn lamenting the onset of old age. The forester reflects bitterly on the death of the vixen. He cannot forget her uninhibited nature, her youthfulness, her urge to be free. In the forest he is enveloped by a quaintly magical atmosphere and falls asleep. As in a vision, a young fox appears to him, the very image of his mother. Life has triumphed over mortality. The wheel has come full circle.
„I am creating the Little Fox the way the Devil catches flies – when he has nothing better to do. I wrote the Little Fox for the forest and for the sorrow of my later years.” Leos Janacek wrote. But his opera THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN is certainly not the melancholic retrospective of an old man who feels himself closer to death than to life. Although the composer was in his late sixties, he created a work full of comic and poetic moments. Offsetting the „sorrow of his later years” we are given a merry and melancholic fable embracing both death and the comforting knowledge that death leads on to new life. The story is taken from a serialised novel by Rudolf Tesnohlídek illustrated by Stanislav Lolek and published in the Brno daily „Lidové noviny” from 1920 onwards. The composer wrote the libretto himself and the opera was completed by January 1924. It resembles an impressionistic composition of short, subtly instrumentalised scenes and episodes that are linked by a total of nine orchestral preludes and scene changes that provide the musical and dramaturgical structure of the work. Despite his affinity for impressionism and the music of Debussy, whom he admired, Janacek's musical language remains unique. He was one of very few composers who could develop music from the melody of language. Sequences resembling leitmotifs but lacking a stringent structural urgency can be detected throughout the opera. Characteristic of this opera are also the popular, albeit never folkloric, elements within the music and its decidedly rhythmic structure, which gives an added dimension to already beguiling melodies.
„Katharina Thalbach's production teems with ideas as the undergrowth teems with animal life. At times we're at a loss where to look first, and afterwards the temptation is to tell everyone about the snail or the grumpy badger with his pipe, but we don't, because we don't want to spoil the delight for others. Added to this there is Ezio Toffolutti's stage set, which recalls the woodland scenery or moonlit night of a lovingly illustrated children's book. ” (Berliner Zeitung)