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REVIEW: The Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera



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Review by Preston Witts

The Cunning Little Vixen, Longborough Festival Opera, 30th July

NOT only is Longborough Festival Opera a venue of international artistic standing, but it also plays a significant role closer to home.

In its final opera in this Covid-restricted season of 2021 – The Cunning Little Vixen by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) – one of the striking features of the production was the use of local schoolchildren as fox cubs.

Julieth Lozano, the Colombian soprano, was in fine voice and especially vivacious as Vixen Sharp-Ears. (49782932)
Julieth Lozano, the Colombian soprano, was in fine voice and especially vivacious as Vixen Sharp-Ears. (49782932)

With typical Longborough ingenuity, the dark days of 2020, which was when the opera was originally scheduled for performance, were utilised by involving the youngsters in all manner of preparations for this production – not just singing, but various forms of artwork as well.

The result was a magical offering of fun and fantasy in this wonderful outpouring of late Janáček – he was 67 when he began work on the opera – and once again Longborough has scored a triumph in the face of severe adversity.

The performance took place in the big red marquee specially erected in the grounds of Longborough – as have two other operas of the four staged this year – to deal with the restrictions imposed in the Age of Covid. As a result we had not only a novel way performing an opera but music-in-the-round as well.

Kieran Rayner as The Forester (49782936)
Kieran Rayner as The Forester (49782936)

Apart from Janáček’s gloriously seamless music, the quality of the singing and acting from the principles was exceptionally high. Julieth Lozano, the Colombian soprano, was in fine voice and especially vivacious as Vixen Sharp-Ears.

Also on great form were the New Zealand-born baritone Kieran Rayner as The Forester, the British mezzo-soprano Frances Gregory as Fox/Dog and the Irish bass-baritone David Howes as Badger/Priest. Credit should also be given to many others in what at times looked like a cast of thousands – especially with the involvement of so many schoolchildren – in this brilliantly makeshift tent-cum-opera house.

The Longborough Orchestra, under the baton of Justin Brown, captured the vitality of Janáček’s wonderfully throbbing rhythms. And there should also be a special mention of the rest of the creative team who pulled off this marvel in these strange and difficult times – the director Olivia Fuchs, the designer Nate Gibson, the lighting designer Jake Wiltshire and the movement director Lauren Poulton.

Local schoolchildren as the fox cubs (49782928)
Local schoolchildren as the fox cubs (49782928)

This was a genuine piece of theatre with ample elements of humour, mischief and sadness – a fairy tale for our times, you might say. It reveals something about Janáček’s artistic imagination that he was able to turn what began as a comic strip in a Czech newspaper into one of the towering operatic achievements of the 20th century.



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