HIGH art meets the earthbound realities of the wild in the latest spectacular offering from Garsington Opera - a production of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen.
Fast-moving, broadly funny, and shot through with a haunting sense of melancholy, this is not the Disney-esque experience you might, at first glance, be expecting.
The opera tells the story of a gamekeeper who, in between losing himself in tankards of beer, captures and tries to raise a vixen cub in his home. Clashing with the gamekeeper’s wife, children, and the other farm animals he keeps – not least a lecherous dog - the smart and determined vixen soon proves herself a literal fox in the henhouse.
After wreaking havoc in their home, she takes to the forest to forge a new life for herself in the wild – or so she hopes.
The show is a vibrant and pacy experience, moving briskly from one scene to the next, with plenty of visual delights to match the impressive musical performances. The forest is brought to life by a menagerie of cleverly dressed performers, young and old, with a deceptively simple, yet hugely effective set design forming the backdrop.
They sing and dance their way through the show weaving a spellbinding tapestry of forest life – frogs, badgers, insects and birds are among the creatures teeming throughout the tale.
And dancing plays a key role in this production, directed by Daniel Slater, with the emotional – and sometimes lustful – overtones of several sequences being brought to life in several routines peppered throughout the show.
This could be a clumsy device but actually works extremely well, adding another dimension to the opera, itself full of often beautiful music, ranging from the rousing to the wistful. But this is a bittersweet world as we soon find out, rich with unrequited longings and fading dreams.
Here, the cycle of life and nature is mirrored by the regret and mid-life foolishness of lonely men who make the same mistakes over and over. It has a bawdy edge to it – a theme of the show is the baseness of nature, and the cycle of life and that is brought to life amusingly with several gags at the cost of the libidos of the dog and the cockerel.
In the title role, soprano Clare Bloom gives a superb, tremendously charismatic performance. Clad in a fur-collared coat, she dominates the stage whenever she is on, with a mix of feral movements, archly delivered vocals and a self-assured sassiness.
Bringing the Forester to evocative life was baritone Grant Doyle, who made the character, by turn, both sympathetic and sometimes a little pitiful. The entire cast does a superb job, though – mezzo-soprano Victoria Simmonds as the fox seeking to woo the vixen and Timothy Robinson’s sad schoolmaster are particularly good, while Joshua Bloom brings an air of menace to proceedings as a poacher who, at one point at least, seems to have been sent up to the forest from hell itself.
All the while parallels are drawn between the vixen and local temptress and object of male fantasy, Terynka, giving proceedings a depth and subtlety you might not expect.
We were lucky enough to attend the show last night – a beautiful, sun-soaked evening in which to enjoy the stunning grounds of the Wormsley Estate, and nigh-on perfect picnic weather. As ever with Garsington, the show may be the main attraction, but the lush green surroundings of the opera house – a temporary construction erected every year for the summer season – are a delightful reason to pay a visit in their own right.
It is quite a sight, to see the house lit up, and the grassy footways lined with firelight as you head back to the car park – and an experience, overall, that comes highly recommended.
For more information or to book tickets, go to www.garsingtonopera.org