author Leoš Janáček
conductor Marko Ivanović
director Jiří Heřman
No opera is so closely connected with Brno and its surroundings as Janáček´s The Cunning Little Vixen, which is why the new production that will ceremoniously open this festival will be performed by the Janáček opera ensemble of National Theatre Brno. Director Jiří Heřman, the Artistic Director of the Brno opera ensemble, will enter the world of Janáček’s operas with it for the first time.
Each opera of Janáček´s is an original, and this is also the case with The Cunning Little Vixen, where the human and animal worlds intermingle. It is lyrical and melodic, and sparkles with a humour that’s both kindly and somewhat prickly in the Janáček style, and also engages the listener with its earthiness and affectionate philosophical approach to the eternal cycle of life. The story about the cunning vixen began with the decision by the Brno editors of the Lidové noviny newspaper to start a regular feature for readers combining cartoons with witty texts. One of the painters addressed was Stanislav Lolek (1873-1936), a great lover of nature and originally a hunter by profession. Lolek hesitated at the beginning, but Markalous, the editor, discovered dusty drawings featuring a furious hunter with bristling beard and a cunning fox in Lolek’s studio, hidden under a heap of old junk. The editor in chief, Heinrich, liked the pictures and asked Rudolf Těsnohlídek (1882-1928) to write accompanying texts for them.
The Janáček household were regular readers of Lidové noviny and the composer became interested in the cartoons. During the holidays in 1921, he started sketching out the script for a new opera about the cunning vixen and working on a libretto based on Těsnohlídek´s texts. The preparations for the composition of the opera also included a thorough study of the life of foxes: Janáček asked his friend from Hukvaldy, the landowner Ludvík Jung, to send him a report on when foxes reach adulthood, how many cubs they have, how long they are pregnant and how often they give birth. When staying in Hukvaldy, the composer often went to a forest with the local gamekeeper, Sládek, who’d tracked down a fox’s den, and together they watched the frolicking cubs. Janáček chose only ten of the original chapters of Těsnohlídek´s series, and emphasized the world of the animals while reducing the number of human characters that appear. Těsnohlídek´s narration ends with the wedding of Bystrouška and Zlatohřbítek. However, in contrast with the original, Janáček decided to make a significant change and let the main character die because as a real playwright he felt the need for catharsis. The Cunning Little Vixen had its world premiere at the Brno theatre on 6th November 1924. The music production was prepared by a great promoter of Janáček´s works, the head of the opera at that time, conductor František Neumann.