Review | The Cunning Little Vixen is hilarious but flawed

The Cunning Little Vixen | His Majesty’s Theatre | Until 28th April| ★ ★ ★ ½

The WA Opera have boldly staged a work which outside the usual predictable repertoire. Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen is set in a forest and is filled with woodland creatures and forest inhabitants. 

While most operas are performed in German, French or Italian, this one was originally in Czech, but is performed in English. The work is based on a popular comic strip Adventures of the Vixen Known as Sharp-Ears, and until the 1970’s was titled The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears until it was renamed the much more marketable The Cunning Little Vixen.

The performance opens with woodland creatures taking to the stage. As the Forester sits leaning against a tree and pauses for a nap, a caterpillar and snail emerge, soon they are joined by a cricket (wearing cricket pads), and some bees, an owl, a badger, a frog, a mosquito and a vixen. 

The costuming is comical, the frog appears wearing green galoshes and a raincoat, he bounces along on a hopper ball. There is a lot of visual humour in the show.  

The forester wakes and grabs the vixen, taking her home to be raised in captivity. Here she endures the sexual advances of the Forester’s flea ridden dog and the endless gossip of the hens. The hens also have some brilliant costuming. The vixen escapes back into the woods and so begins a series of tales about love and the circle of life for both animals and humans.

The music of Janáček’s most famous opera is stunning, the lyrics however are surprisingly awkward and simple, leaving you to wonder if something was lost in translation. While the opera is performed in English there are still accompanying surtitles in English, which maybe were not necessary.

Emma Pearson is captivating as Vixen, and James Clayton does as admirable job as the Forester. Throughout the show different performers have their moment to shine, the cast includes many regular faces including Mark Alderson and Paull-Anthony Keightley.

Rachelle Durkin plays the Vixen’s love interest, the Fox. A while the role has traditionally been played by a female singer, there were moments when Pearson’s and Durkin’s voices sounded too similar to differentiate their characters. 

There were odd moments in the show where the stage was left deserted, which broke the flow of the storytelling. Strangely the climax of the vixen’s story line occurred off-stage, robbing the narrative of its crescendo.

The adage is “don’t work with children or animals” but we’re not sure if it still holds true for children dressed as animals. The show’s younger performers are it’s best asset, there were moments when their voices lacked projection but their enthusiasm was infectious. Lucky Farrell is the best opera frog ever – there should be an award. Thomas Denver, Bella Freeman, Rio Haigh, Madeline Kelly, Lily Macliver, Edward Mirco and Emily Neal are adorable as fox cubs.

This would be a great opera to take younger people along to, or a friend who is put off by opera being sung in a different language. The West Australian Opera must be applauded for taking a risk and including a lesser known work, and the costuming by Roger Kirk is camp and brilliantly ridiculous.

The Cunning Little Vixen is at His Majesty’s Theatre until 28th April. 

Graeme Watson, images: 


  

       

    

 

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