Once in a while a video recording comes my way that’s just pure delight. The 1995 recording of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen from the Théâtre du Châtelet is one. The creative team of director Nicholas Hytner (director), Bob Crowley (designer), Jean-Claude Gallotta (choreagrapy) and Jean Kalman (lighting) created a spectacle that is as much ballet as opera with vivid costumes and simple sets It’s a rather splendid and touching adult fairy tale.
Sir Charles Mackerras leads the Orchestre de Paris and some splendid doloists in an absolutely sweeping and radiant account of Janáček’s score. The stand outs in the vocal department are Thomas Allen’s portrayal of the Forester; himself straddling the world of human and animal. His performance of the final hymn to Nature and Renewal had me tearing up. Equally ambiguous,and equally effective, is Eva Jenis’ touching and cheeky portrayal of the Vixen. She’s well matched by contralto Hanna Minitullo as her mate. The supporting cast,mostly playing multiple roles, of Libuse Márová, Ivan Kusnjer, Richard Novák, Josef Hanja, Jean-Philippe Marlière, Sarah Connolly, Florence Bonnafous and Françoise Martinaud is uniformly strong. The dance elements are wonderfully performed too. That bit isn’t the after thought it sometimes seems on the opera stage but a crucial part of the overall production concept.
The video director is Brian Large and it’s one of his best efforts. For once he relaxes and lets us see the action in all it’s glorious colour and movement. He’s helped by a much better than average 16:9 picture. The bold colours and bright lighting also help. It’s hard to photograph a dark stage! The sound is good quality PCM stereo with good balance and some depth though not nearly the match of the best modern recordings. The only subtitles are English and, this being a Kultur offering, the documentation is nugatory. Still, it’s probably the best thing technically I’ve seen from this label.