author Leoš Janáček
conductor Marko Ivanović
director Jiří Heřman
The Forester is walking trough his woods on a hot summer afternoon. He lies down and soon dozes off. The forest is full of life: little flies circle around, a cricket and grasshopper get swept up in an infectious waltz, a mosquito drunk on human blood goes reeling about and a little frog tries to catch him. The young vixen scares the frog, who jumps onto the sleeping man. Waking, the Forester catches the vixen and drags her home.
The captive vixen lives with the dog in the Forester's yard. Pepík, the Forester's grandson, brings a friend, and they tease the vixen; she bites Pepík. In response to his wife's complains, the Forester ties up the vixen. Feeling the strangeness of real captivity, the vixen dreams of freedom in the wild forest. Mocked by the cock, the vixen calls on all the chickens to rebel against his domination and their forced labour. Then she tricks them, and slaughter them all. The enraged Forester attacks at the vixen, but she bites through her ropes and escapes to freedom.
The vixen has acquired a few traits during her stay at the Forester’s abode, including a little guile. She drives out a grumpy old badger from his den and happily takes his place there, supported by insect admirers.
Meanwhile, at Pásek’s Inn, the Forester and his friends have settled down to a game of cards and some good drink. The Forester pokes fun at the Schoolmaster‘s fondness for a certain Terynka, and the Schoolmaster pays him back in kind by asking after the vixen. They all leave the inn staggering drunk. The vixen secretly observes these late-night wanderers and hides among the sunflowers. Their trembling attracts the attention of the Schoolmaster, who sees in them the face of Terynka, the local beauty, and tries to go after her. Even the Parson‘s recollection of a love from his student days is interrupted by the vixen. The Forester shoots at her; both men then run off in fright.
On a lovely moonlit summer night the vixen encounters the dashing fox. Their initial attraction soon grows into love, which is consummated in the vixen’s den. The woodland creatures view the vixen‘s immoral ways with indignation, and are satisfied only once a hastily-arranged wedding has taken place.
Summer turns into autumn. The vixen is now a skilled hunter. The Forester runs into Harašta, a poultry trader. Harašta boasts of his upcoming marriage with Terynka, while the Forester wanders whether Harašta has been poaching in his woods. The vixen appears with Goldskin and her fox cubs, and she runs into Harašta, who is carrying a basket full of chickens. When he threatens to kill her in order to present her tail as a gift to Terynka, she decides to have revenge. He falls into her trap, and she scratches his nose. As her cubs eat Harašta's chickens, Harašta fires into the pack the vixen remains lying on the ground, dead.
At the inn, the Forester learns that Harašta’s Terinka has received a new muff for her wedding – so that’s why he found the fox den empty! The Schoolmaster is pained by the news of Terinka’s wedding. A feeling of sorrow at lost youth descends over them all, and the Forester thinks it better to head for home now. On his way he thinks back to his own youth, and remeber his wedding night. The forest looks the same as it did when he found the vixen, all the woodland creatures ate here just like they were then. Only the little fox is missing… And then he sees her – the living image of her mother! A tiny frog appears, the grandchild of the earlier one.
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.
National Theatre Brno is a partner of Opera Vision. This international project presents productions by leading European theatres via live streaming on a web platform, which is a form available to a wide audience all over the world. The Cunning Little Vixen will be streamed live on 18. 11. 2018 as the first of three contributions by the Janáček Opera of National Theatre Brno. More information: www.operavision.eu