Melly Still’s 2012 Glyndebourne production of Janáček’s Cunning Little Vixen is straightforward and rather beautiful. Certainly the staging matches the magic of this extraordinary score. There are really two ideas underpinning the designs. The animals are very human rather than the furries sometimes seen. Their specific nature is hinted at rather than made terribly explicit. They are differentiated from the humans by being very boldly coloured. In contrast, the human world is a sort of monochrome 1920’s Moravia; all greys and browns. Within this framework there are some neat touches. The foxes carry their tales and use them to great demonstrative effect. The chickens are portrayed as sex workers with the cockerel as, sort of, their pimp. It’s not overdone and it’s very effective. The sets are centred round a stylized tree with other structures as needed being erected on the fly with flats so the action never really stops.
Musically this is also very sound. All the principals are more than adequate with the standouts being Lucy Crowe’s Vixen and Emma Bell’s Fox.Sergei Leiferkus’ Forester is good right up to the big moment; the Hymn to Nature, which should be the crowning glory of this piece but doesn’t really come off here. It’s the one disappointment in an otherwise excellent recording. By contrast, the orchestral interludes are gorgeous. I’ve often been struck by the clarity that Vladimir Jurowski achieves, especially with the London Philharmonic, and here they are at their best. This is so important in a work that really only has one big solo vocal moment. The chorus and myriad solo parts are all perfectly satisfactory and there’s excellent use of dance, choreographed by Maxine Doyle.
Thomas Grimm’s video direction is pretty decent if a bit TV oriented. The picture is true HD and the sound is vivid DTS-HD which really shines in the orchestral sections. There’s a pretty decent “making of” feature included in which jurowski is characteristically insightful. The booklet contains an essay and synopsis. Subtitle options are English, French, German and Korean. The English option is very colloquial, going on vulgar, which, as I understand it, is a fair reflection of the Moravian dialect used by Janáček and not something I’ve noticed on other recordings.
The real competition for this recording is the much older Paris version. That’s also wonderfully inventive and has Thomas Allen’s incomparable Forester. However it is nearly 20 years old and shows it, especially in the sound department. If high definition sound and video are a priority this newer recording, available on Blu-ray, is a clear winner.
ETA 23 May 2019: Note that at time of writing this recording is available as part of a three disk set called Fairytale Operas that also contains the ROH Hansel und Gretel and Jonathan Dove’s The Adventures of Pinocchio.