24. 11. 2024, 7 p.m., 100th anniversary of the opera
Author: Leoš Janáček
Conductor: Marko Ivanović
Director: Jiří Heřman
Ensemble: Janáček Opera of the National Theatre Brno
Is it a fairy tale, or… were we really once so young? The whirring wings of a dragonfly outside the window remind us of the merciless advance of time, and of course it is a new dragonfly, from one of several generations that will appear over just one warm summer. A red -haired girl opens the window and the dragonfly swoops inside – it is as if the forest itself has come in, and with it the forester’s memories of his life.
The forester fell asleep in the woods. How couldn’t he, when the warm moss tempted him to lay himself down and rest upon it, and tell his wife that they had been waiting for thieves. The little fox cub sets off to investigate the forest, for there are so many strange things out there, like the green jumping frog which wakes the sleeping forester. The fox cub, transfi xed by curiosity, is easy to catch. She calls for her mother too late, and the forester takes her back to the lodge to please his children, and himself.
The little fox cub grows up to become the vixen Sharp -Ears. She lives in the courtyard together with the dog Lapák, a flock of hens and a cockerel. It’s spring and Lapák is dreaming of love, but to no avail. Sharp-Ears has no experience either, but she can still remember what went on in the starling’s nest above her old den. The forester’s son Pepík shows off to Frantík by poking the vixen with a stick, but that ends up with him being bitten nicely in the calf. A fox is no dog, after all. The forester’s wife makes a scene and the vixen has to be tied up. The hens are happy – no more being chased around the courtyard, and the fox has got its just deserts. The vixen makes a revolutionary speech, appealing to the hens to overthrow the cockerel’s rule. When that doesn’t work out, she pretends to be dead. Nudged into action by the hens, the cockerel goes to check if the vixen has really passed away. One bite later, and the cockerel’s head is in the vixen’s mouth. And why stop at the cockerel – Sharp-Ears goes to work on the hens, and the forester’s wife, brought to the yard by all the racket, nearly has a heart attack when she sees it. “Husband, shoot that fox!” she yells, but the vixen is swift er and all that can be seen of her is her red tail disappearing into the forest.
Sharp-Ears finds the freedom she’s been dreaming of among the trees, but she also needs somewhere to live. She doesn’t hesitate to expel a grumpy old badger from his den, to the great amusement of the other woodland animals.
At Mr Pásek’s pub there’s a familiar gathering under way – the forester, a gruff pastor and a schoolmaster sighing over his secret love. The forester is teasing him. For his comic song about the virgin to whom for years the schoolmaster has been too scared to proclaim his love, the forester earns a biting question as to how he’s getting on with that fox he brought home. “It ran away, and I won’t be looking for it,” he growls. Inebriated, the schoolmaster gets up to go, and the pastor follows him. He has to pack because he’s leaving for another parish and the new tenants are already waiting. The forester would love to tarry a while longer in the company of his old friends, but his attempts to convince them to stay fall on deaf ears. So, he also heads for home through the forest.
The drunken schoolmaster weaves his way home thinking about his beloved Terynka. “Wait, I love you!” he cries as he stumbles aft er an apparition. The mind of the pastor, who is also well in his cups, is invaded by thoughts of how a lost love once hurt him – she was beautiful, eyes as deep as a well, and so all the worse was her betrayal. Both fall asleep in the quiet of the forest. The forester is also there, and when he catches a glimpse of the vixen, he decides to take a pot shot at her. The only thing he almost manages to hit is the terrified schoolmaster as he rushes to get out of rifl e range.
One night, in the glade where Sharp-Ears goes on her nightly wanders, who should appear but a dog fox named Gold -Spur. He’s a good-looking youth and Sharp-Ears can’t keep her eyes off him. They shyly get acquainted and Sharp-Ears tells him about her childhood at the forester’s lodge. “I mustn’t let anyone else have her”, the dog fox decides. He disappears, only to quickly reappear with a gift in the form of a rabbit. Sharp-Ears is bashful at first, but Gold-Spur’s sincere declaration of love wins her over. The forest has a new scandal! Sharp-Ears is with Gold-Spur, and there’s not even been a proper wedding! The owl’s eyes almost fell out when she was telling everyone. Meanwhile Sharp-Ears informs Gold-Spur that their love has not been without consequence. There’s nothing else for it but to go to see the pastor. The woodpecker marries Sharp-Ears and Gold-Spur, and the whole forest celebrates the wedding.
Summer dissolves into the colours of autumn, and these in turn vanish beneath a cloak of snow. But earlier than anyone anticipates, spring is here again, and then another summer and autumn. The forester meets Harašta in the woods. Is he really only going for poultry for the market, or is it another poacher? Harašta swears blind that he’s no poacher, but just in case the forester hasn’t noticed there’s a dead hare lying in the clearing. The forester remembers Sharp-Ears and sets a trap for her. The fox family has been growing well and the parents have their hands full keeping an eye on their curious little off spring. Sharp-Ears doesn’t fail to spot the dead hare, but she also sees the metal trap that’s lying in wait for her. Harašta spots the vixen’s tail. He plans to marry, and it would make a pretty gift for his bride -to -be. He grabs a stick and heads aft er the fox, but the woodland creatures get under his feet and Harašta ends up with a bump on his nose. Sharp-Ears and her cubs take the opportunity to go through his pack with the poultry in it. Harašta shoots her.
Things aren’t particularly jolly at the pub. Pásek has gone to Brno and his wife complains that she hasn’t got time to chat with her guests. The pastor is missing, and the schoolmaster is down in the dumps because his secret love is getting married today. The friends part earlier than usual and the forester heads home through the forest once again. Everything reminds him of his youth, and the day of his wedding. How long ago it seems… and a little vixen, curious, nuzzles up to the forester. She’s the spitting image of her mother. Time fl ies – “it’s not me, it was my grandpa,” says the frog. It as if life stopped for just a second, and a second lasted a whole lifetime. The circle has closed, and yet it keeps turning on…
Director: Jiří Heřman
Conductor: Marko Ivanović, Robert Kružík
Musical staging: Marko Ivanović
Scene: Dragan Stojčevski
Costumes: Alexandra Grusková
Lights: Daniel Tesař
Pohybová spolupráce: Kateřina Nováčková
Choirmaster: Martin Buchta
Dramaturgy: Patricie Částková
Bystrouška – Kateřina Kněžíková
Zlatohřbítek – Václava Krejčí Housková
Forester- Adam Plachetka
Schoolmaster / Mosquito – Ondřej Koplík
Reverend / Badger – Jan Šťáva
Forester´s wife / Owl – Daniela Straková-Šedrlová
Mr. Pásek – Petr Karas
Mrs. Pásková / Woodpecker – Jitka Zerhauová
Pepík – Barbora Šancová
Frantík – Eva Svozilová
Harašta – Tadeáš Hoza
Grasshopper – Barbora Šancová
Cricket – Eva Svozilová
Lapák – Jitka Klečanská
Rooster – Andrea Široká
Crested Hen – Martina Králíková
Jay – Andrea Široká
She has a devilish twinkle in her eye and her coat is the colour of autumn gold. No one would have guessed she is a hundred, but that is the truth. Our vixen, Sharp-Ears from the forests of Bílovice, will celebrate her 100th birthday on 6 November 2024. This is, of course, a reason for a proper celebration and that is exactly what we have prepared for her during the festival. It will be a spectacular end of the whole festival with the production of the Brno ensemble directed by Jiří Heřman and conducted by Marko Ivanć, because no other opera by Janáček is connected with Brno and its surroundings more than The Cunning Little Vixen. One of the birthday presents will be the extraordinary casting of the main roles with Kateřina Kněžíková as the Vixen and Adam Plachetka as the Forester.
The Brno production of The Cunning Little Vixen inaugurated the festival in 2018, when the reconstructed Janáček Theatre was opened, and since then it has been one of the regular pieces of our repertoire. Captivating, smiling, full of children and their toys, who playfully turn the Forester’s house into a forest and themselves into forest animals. Every opera by Janáček is a solitaire, and The Cunning Little Vixen, where the human and animal worlds intertwine on stage, has no parallel in the opera genre. Janáček was looking for a theme that would reflect his view of the world and the eternal cycle of life, which is why his Sharp-Ears the Vixen dies at the hands of the poacher Harašta. But there is another young Sharp-Ears… and life goes on. Which is how it is supposed to be, and this is also expressed by Janáček’s music – lyric, melodic, with the orchestra revelling in colours of the forests and everything that lives in them. Everything here sparkles with humour, a little sharp, Janáček style, but actually kind. As Janáček himself eventually said: “I wrote it for the joy and sadness of the later years.”
Rudolf Těsnohlídek, the author of the literary model, is the founder of the beautiful tradition of the Christmas Tree of the Republic and finding little Liduška in the forest in the run-up to Christmas became one of the inspirations for Leoš Janáček’s fox story. This was also reflected in the production by director Jiří Heřman: “The inspiration came from Těsnohlídek’s big idea to build the Dagmar Children’s Home, where we placed our production. The plot The Vixen is played out through the eyes of children.”