John D’Armand was kind enough to write us a review from last Sunday’s performance of Cunning Little Vixen. Read it here!
photo by Brian Wallace
Review of ‘The cunning little vixen’
If you ever have been transported into Never Never Land by “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”, “Brigadoon,” or “The Wizard of Oz,” then you must attend a performance of “The Cunning Little Vixen” this Friday or Saturday evening at 7:30 at Thunder Mountain High School. This fantasy involves the interaction of humans with various creatures of the forest. We feel vicariously the evil, the love, and the innocence of various ones as we ride the waves of the music to the conclusion, which will not be revealed here.
Many unheralded labors of love from clever minds brought this quite unusual performance together. Imagine the work involved in creating costumes for a cast of dozens! The set was simple but appealingly colorful and served perfectly for every scene of the drama. As I walked into the auditorium, I was startled to see an octet of some of Juneau’s finest musicians sitting in front of the stage, ready to transport us into composer Leoš Janácek’s musical fairytale.
From the beginning, I had wondered how a local cast could sing Czech for an hour-and-a-half. Well, the very capable coach, sitting right there at the piano, was Jamila Hla Shwe of Fairbanks. Czech is her native language, she was quite generous with her time, and, by the end of the opera, we listeners almost felt that Czech was the native tongue of everyone on stage.
By the way, Janácek composed a full orchestral score as accompaniment to the singers. Conductor Todd Hunt spent more than a year condensing it to an octet. This transcription sounded as though anything more would have been superfluous.
It was a relief not to be subjected to the wham-thunk-thunk-thunk quadruple meter of almost all of the music of our day. The première performance of this work took place in 1924, only 11 years after the riot-inducing presentation of the Stravinsky ballet “Le sacre du printemps” to conservative Parisians. Janácek, like Stravinsky, filled his score with many changes of meter. He also based much of this work on Moravian folksong. Yes, 91 years after its introduction to the public, it still sounds new. The final scene has the power of the final trio of “Der Rosenkavalier”, which had been composed just a dozen years earlier by Richard Strauss. If you don’t feel that on your first exposure to the music, listen to it again — and again!
And what about the dance, which pervades almost the entire drama? In her very articulate introduction to the opera, in addition to announcing that the new name for Opera to Go will be The Orpheus Project, Anne Weske, president of the company, related that her daughter had been losing interest in the study of dance until she saw this production, which rekindled that interest. The smallest of the children, such as Megan Lujan and Elin Antaya, danced as though such movement were second nature to them. Jillian Anderson’s almost ubiquitous Blue Dragonfly was pleasing. Father Fox and the Wolf were portrayed by Carraig New, the smoothness and intensity of whose dancing were quite impressive.
Well, I could go on and on about the staging, lighting, supertitles, dancing, costumes, etc., and, of course, the singing. After all, singing is the essence of opera, and excellent local singers make it possible for this community to support two fine opera companies. The most prominent roles were carried convincingly by Kathleen Wayne (Vixen), Philippe Damerval (Forester), David Miller (Poacher), Angela Baade (fox), and Paul Shipper (Priest and Badger). Performances by those in minor roles contributed mightily to the intense and positive effect of the opera.
The auditorium was not quite full Sunday, for it was, after all, a sun day. With the leaden forecast of this weekend, you’ll have a good excuse to run indoors. Why not make that Thunder Mountain High School rather than your home? You’ll be memorably rewarded if you do!
• A teacher of singing, Dr. d’Armand is Executive Director of The Paul Ulanowsky Memorial Foundation for Chamber Musicians.