The Cunning Little Vixen review – small scale but big impact for warm and witty staging

Øpera Holland Park has had to make some practical choices in order to put on its season this summer but, for all the economy of its delightful new production of The Cunning Little Vixen, there is nothing needs-must about it. Thanks to the warmth and wit of director Stephen Barlow and designer Andrew D Edwards’ production, Janáček’s century-old opera musing on the cyclicity of life and the interconnectedness of humans and nature feels as much at home in the big city as a 21st-century fox does.

This story was a cartoon strip before it was an opera, and the staging has an apt levity and lack of self-importance. The tone of Edwards’ designs, simultaneously homespun and stylish, is spot on. The setup is almost in-the-round, with some of the audience seated at the sides of the stage; there are barely any props bar a green wheelie bin and a Pret sandwich bag. That’s more than enough framework, 尽管, for a series of sharply observed characterisations, starting with the insects: children in 3D card headdresses brandishing colourful windsocks on long, slender poles that seem to fly around them.

It’s when the Vixen first dreams of freedom that the opera really starts to weave its magic. She sees out of her world into ours, sees the orchestra playing, and as she thrills to the music you can see her becoming empowered by it: she becomes a heroine, 和在 Jennifer France’s charismatic performance, gloriously sung, she’s a worthy one.

Grant Doyle’s bluff, resonant Forester has the stage presence to match her. The rest of the cast, including Charne Rochford as the Schoolteacher and Julia Sporsén as the swaggering Fox, are first rate – though words get lost in the open-sided auditorium so the surtitles are essential. Jessica Cottis conducts the City of London Sinfonia in the version of the score arranged by Jonathan Dove, with stripped-back strings and buzzing accordion, and it mostly sounds sumptuous. It’s only in the Forester’s final monologue that one longs for more of a full-orchestral glow to match the one that, thanks to Rory Beaton’s lighting, is so joyously filling the stage.

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