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FROM the moment David Pountney’s Welsh National Opera production of The Cunning Little Vixen opens, we know we are in for a treat.
The setting is a bucolic scene in a drowsy forest, where the insects play games on a sleeping badger as a cricket and a caterpillar give a concert, while lithe dancers flit around the stage as iridescent insects.
The idyll is joined by Aoife Miskelly’s beautifully realised sassy young fox cub Vixen Sharp Ears, who is exploring the forest on her own.
Alas, Claudio Otelli’s grumpy forester captures Sharp Ears and takes her home for his children to play with.
In what follows, Janacek’s opera is more than just a musical romp and bears some uncomfortable truths about our relationship with the natural world.
Sharing Sharp Ear’s backyard prison is a gaggle of hilarious hens, strutting and clucking their way around stage, pursued by an officious and misogynistic Cockerel (Michael Clifton-Thompson).
In a hilarious yet horrific scene, Sharp Ears tries to persuade the chickens to throw off the shackles of their male-dominated life of producing eggs and to become the strong women she knows they are.
But, in despair at the negative reaction and reactionary attitudes of the hens, she slaughters them all and escapes back to the forest, where she berates Badger (Laurence Cole) for his wealth and living alone in a huge hole and not sharing it with others.
“Don’t come round here preaching socialism,” Badger caustically exclaims before he is unceremoniously evicted from his lair.
The tender scene as Sharp Ears and Lucia Cervoni’s Fox meet, fall in love and have cubs is fun and moving. But the brutality of man is always going to intrude on the vulpine family’s idyllic life and David Stout’s Poacher brings a tragic end to the fun and games.
Fabulous music and singing, great acting and dancing and beautiful scenery all combine to make this an unforgettable production of Janacek’s masterpiece.
This is a magical production that would be a lovely introduction to opera for children.
Runs at the Millennium Centre and tours until November 28, details: wno.org.uk
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