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David Shengold
Opera News, December 2009

This rewarding DVD derives from three live Opéra Bastille performances in October and November 2008 of Janáček’s nonpareil Příhody Lišky Bystroušky. (The title literally means Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears; it was altered “for export” by the same meddling Max Brod who rechristened Her Stepdaughter as Jenůfa.) An imaginative and (in part) brightly attractive staging by André Engel, this thoughtful production features no forest at all for the animals to inhabit; rather, there is a field of artificial sunflowers lined by railway tracks, complete with telephone poles. This alternates with a joyless industrial farm/railway station serving as the Forester’s home. Thematizing the encroachment of industrial capitalism on what remained of natural Europe suits the opera’s zeitgeist well enough; the sunflowers and railway tracks also prove—alongside a blue kite connoting freedom/joy—apt symbols for ever-renewing cyclical life and its dangers. It’s been effectively augmented by Don Kent for home viewing with video footage of images from nature (real sunflowers, leaves, a full moon) spliced seamlessly over orchestral interludes between scenes, sometimes incorporating sepia-toned images from the previous scene.

One basic issue will trouble some listeners: there’s just one Czech native speaker aboard, Hannah Esther Minutillo’s very convincingly embodied Fox. In keeping with the usual Western assumption that any “Easterner” is qualified to sing any Eastern European language, we have a Russian Vixen and a Finnish Forester; other leads are French, American and German (the Parson of stagewise veteran Roland Bracht, whose words prove the second easiest to understand). The text was presumably learned by rote. One wonders why the Bastille didn’t either present the work in French translation or engage more Czech leads.

That said, the young Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova, a member of the Opéra’s Atelier Lyrique, makes an enchanting-looking Vixen and acts with delightful spirit. Her voice is light and pretty; she should make a fine Lulu at some point, though one would hope for more accuracy in Berg than her sometimes semi-parlando style affords her here. As the Forester, Jukka Rasilainen makes big sounds and big, funny faces (perhaps better appreciated in the higher balconies than via close-up). His pitch is too often approximate.

Makeup, wig and costuming render the tall Minutillo very believably male; her mezzo, if a little leeched of color at the very top, has an appropriate timbre for her music. The vulpine courtship and wedding scenes of Act II are very strongly done, theatrically and musically. Minutillo sings the same role in the Théâtre du Châtelet’s competing DVD, starring the fine Czech soprano Eva Jenis and the highly experienced Thomas Allen under Charles Mackerras, whose conducting is more magical than the solidly clear, detailed (but not transcendent) account offered by Dennis Russell Davies here. Michèle Lagrange, once a ranking French prima donna, makes aptly jagged-voiced cameos as the Forester’s Wife and the Owl; David Kuebler’s tenor, a shade dry, deals unflinchingly with the Teacher’s high tessitura.



Frank Swietek
Video Librarian, September 2009

Presented here in a 2008 Paris Opera production staged at the Opéra Bastille, Leos Janáček’s 1924 beast-fable opera is a tunefully bittersweet piece that is both charming and profound. Drawing on the passage of seasons to reflect the natural cycle of life and death, The Cunning Little Vixen juxtaposes the daily lives of Moravian villagers—a forester and his wife, his drinking buddies, and a poacher—with various animals, including the vixen the forester catches and tries to keep as a pet, as well as barnyard fowl, a dog, and even insects. In a “behind-the-scenes” intermission, former Paris Opera general manager Gerard Mortier deplores France’s tardiness in embracing Janáček’s music, expressing his hope that this production will help rectify the oversight…the set is colorful, the costuming imaginative (with children cleverly outfitted as snails, frogs, and even mosquitoes), and much of the singing is excellent, with Jukka Rasilainen outstanding as the forester and Elena Tsallagova piquant as the vixen…



Bradley Bambarger
www.nj.com, June 2009

Near the end of his life, infatuated with a younger woman, the Moravian composer Leos Janacek was inspired to write his greatest music, including his 1924 opera, “The Cunning Little Vixen.” He based it on a comic strip about a fox and a forester, but his libretto and warm, magical music transform the tale into a moving reflection on love, nature and the cycle of life and death. Blessed with imaginative costumes, this 2008 Paris production revolves around a magnetic portrayal of the Vixen by Elena Tsallagova. Like Mozart’s “Magic Flute,” Janacek’s 90-minute opera is a fable as engaging for children as it is poignant for adults.



Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, June 2009

Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen was exquisitely mounted and performed at the Bastille Opera in 2008 (3078388). This opera, combining animal as well as human characters, is essentially about the renewal of life in spring; it may be the most humanistic opera ever written, but it contains hardships as well (the heroine, the Vixen, is shot by a hunter). Janáček’s libretto contains emotional moments for both humans and animals, and the music, although very original, is gorgeous throughout. The work is probably the composer’s most imaginative opera, which is saying a lot, for most of them deal with unusual subjects. André Engel’s production, although—as he states in a bonus interview—he tries to update the story in view of the current concerns about ecology, does nothing that clashes with the original. The performance is first class. Dennis Russell Davies leads the excellent orchestra brilliantly; Elena Tsallagova (The Vixen), Jukka Rasilianen (The Forester), Michele Lagrange (his wife), Hannah Minutillo (the Fox who woos the Vixen), David Kuebler (Schoolmaster), Roland Bracht (Priest), Paul Gay (Harašta, as close to a villain as the work gets; he is the hunter who kills the Vixen) all sing beautifully, although, since none are Czech, TC cannot vouch for the pronunciation of the language. Czechs might find fault; no one else will. Excellent sound (three formats) and video.



John Terauds
Toronto Star, May 2009

The magical Opéra national de Paris production of Leos Janáček’s 1924 fable from last fall is out on DVD, and is a must-have for any opera lover’s permanent collection.

The high-definition audio and video make for a spectacular home-theatre experience when the gorgeous, seductive music is so vividly brought to aural and visual life. Nicky Rieti’s simple sets burst with colour—as does the resident orchestra under Dennis Russell Davies. The vocal cast, led by Elena Tsallagova in the title role, is equally accomplished. The opera uses several children, who are also nicely prepared.

André Engel’s direction deftly captures the odd intersections between human and animal, love and loss, humour and tragedy.

The disc includes an introduction and backstage interviews at the Bastille opera house that were first seen on a live Internet broadcast on medici.tv. We even get a peek inside the makeup room. The best question is: “Is it easy to get inside the skin of a chicken?” That’s not something one would normally expect to hear at an opera house.



Kevin Filipski
Times Square, May 2009

Russian soprano Elena Tsallagova makes a suitably vixenish fox at its center.






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10:34:59 PM, 27 December 2014
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