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The enduring appeal of Vixen

25 July 2019

Our production of The Cunning Little Vixen first saw the light of day on 5 November 1980 at the New Theatre in Cardiff, Welsh National Opera’s home city. It is a production that can be seen as a celebration of the relationship between WNO and Sir David Pountney that started with a run of Janáček operas over seven years from 1975 co-produced by Scottish Opera (where David was the Director of Productions) and WNO, Vixen being one.

The short, episodic scenes of this tragi-comedy are portrayed in an almost Alice in Wonderland style that enables you to push aside disbelief and become enveloped in the world in front of you. Janáček’s beautiful music flows through these scenes, describing the sounds of the forest and farmyard visualised on stage.

Music has the ability to bring fantasy and fairy-tale to life; the genius of Janáček’s seventh opera is not only that it combines a celebration of nature that is real … with music of characteristic yearning intensity and surprising intimacy, but that it relates these joys to human cares, to the regrets of old age reflecting on a failed life ... The brilliance of this production was that the boundaries of fantasy and reality became so dissolved that the expression of emotion and psychology through imagination was perfectly natural.

Classical Music, 6 December 1981

With a set that has been compared to the Teletubbies, David’s production may not be your typical, traditional opera production, but then nor does Janáček’s opera fit that standardised viewpoint with its preoccupation with nature and focus on animal characters

Given that Janáček’s opera is about the cycle of life and the eternal process of renewal, its return seems perfectly appropriate – especially as the staging could claim to be almost perfect.

The Guardian, 27 February 2013

As we see from these reviews, WNO’s Vixen has an enduring appeal that has lasted for four decades, from its first performance to the most recent tour. With both local and national press praising the fun, colourful, life-affirming production and stating their belief that it should remain in our rep as ‘one of the best shows the company has ever staged’ (Bristol Evening Post, Oct 1981), it is little wonder it has remained an audience favourite.

From its first appearance in 1980 with the South Wales Echo praising ‘David Pountney’s production, based on a set of undulating hills, about which the seasons change with a multiplicity of colours, is packed with bucolic charm, overflows with imaginative touches and must rank among his highest achievements.’ To the most recent in 2013 when it received 4 stars in The Times, describing it as ‘A cunning little marvel (that) defies age … This vintage Janáček staging still has a magical charm’. You can see why we are so pleased to be bringing this wonderful opera back out on tour this Autumn, giving a whole new audience – as well as those already enamoured – the chance to root for Vixen Sharp Ears.