COOPERSTOWN – Glimmerglass Opera’s production of Leos Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen” (1924) is not your usual kind of opera. Although based on a Czech folk tale about a forest’s animal inhabitants and their interactions with a few humans, it is not a children’s opera. And although Janacek called it a comic opera, the story line was either unsettling or thought-provoking.
True, dramaturg Kelley Rourke created the English libretto, which was spiced with comic asides that often humorously anthropromorphized things like animals as gossips, a screech owl as pastor or rooster as union organizer. But for the most part, the two-act opera was closer to high drama and referenced loneliness, abuse, lost love, insecurity, death in terms of a life cycle as well as an individual’s rights and independence.
That’s a lot to squeeze in, but the pace was fast.
Metropolitan Opera bass Eric Owens anchored a large cast all drawn from the company’s young artist program and its youth chorus. He played the Forester who loved his woods and its animals. Erik Teague wonderfully costumed all these “animals” with furry ears, garments that were layered like feathers, or with wings. There were dragonflies, owls, a wolf, a frog, a mosquito with a huge stinger, foxes, a badger with long marvelous nails, and lots of cackling hens who actually laid eggs much to the capacity crowd’s delight.
Soprano Joanna Latini ably sang as the Vixen. Her love duets with her mate, Alyssa Martin in a trouser role, were very well done. Janacek didn’t really write arias so much as sung lines like recitative that were dialogue. Everyone’s English diction was excellent. There were also English supertitles.
Acting was crucial and all the “animals” twitched, shrugged, hopped, nodded in character. Only the humans had to stay the course and Owens’ presence gave weight to his scenes. Director E. Loren Meeker kept the movement as natural as possible.
Ryan McGettigan designed a lovely tree that was home to a few animals with various log-like pieces about. He also created two rustic human dwellings. Mark McCullough’s lighting was on the warm side with some stark lighting and the use of silhouette in the second act to heighten the drama.
The orchestra under music director Joseph Colaneri was excellent as it managed Janacek’s score, which was descriptive, colorful and unexpected.
“The Cunning Little Vixen” will also be performed July 30, Aug. 5, 7, 10, 16, 18 and 25.