In spite of the fact that I don’t write about them very often, I do very much like Czech composers. I just checked: so far two entries on Dvorak (none of them dedicated to him), another short mention of Martinu as part of a concert review. No entries for Smetana, same for Janacek.
Why is that? I really don’t know. Janacek in a way really flew under my radar screen. I had a couple of his string quartets which I liked, but not much beyond this.
So how do I end up seeing an opera he wrote?
Very simply: I was in Berlin, hadn’t been to see the Berlin Philharmonic for a while, and was able to spontaneously secure last minute tickets. Typically, the BPO with Rattle is booked out, prohibiting spontaneous trips to the amazing Sharoun concert hall.
Luckily, like me, the Berlin audience wasn’t familiar with this opera (original title: Příhody lišky Bystroušky) by Janacek at all.
I’m very glad I went, it was a fantastic evening.
The Cunning Little Vixen – Simon Rattle – Berlin Philharmonic – October 12, 2017
To be fair, my curiosity was helped by the fact that there were some amazing lead singers, with Gerald Finley and Lucy Crowe in the main roles, of Forester and Vixen respectively.
Furthermore, the always interesting Peter Sellars was responsible for the staging of the play, which was performaned not at one of Berlin many opera houses, but instead the traditional Berlin Philharmonic concert hall.
The opera itself has been only very rarely performed, you will find only a handful of recordings on your regular streaming service.
I hope this new performance will make it onto a formal recording, but I´ll make sure to check out the Digital Concert Hall of the Berlin philharmonic, where I hope this recording appears soon.
The Berlin philharmonic and Rattle really shined, this outstanding music, that changes from sentimental to funny to very introvert by the minute.
The story (sung in Czech, but translated in real time on the displays) is full of double double-entendres and little nuances, and really goes beyond the animal fairy tale nature one could immediately expect looking at the title.
As mentioned above, Finley and Crowe were outstanding soloists, but the remaining cast was also very good, only some of the choirs and children roles were not fully up to the same standards, but this didn’t hurt the overall impact.
Peter Sellars didn’t have a lot to work with, there was basically one small stage with only the occasional table and chairs added, and large LCD screens with videos to illustrate the scenery (from a creek in the woods to moving images of chicken).
Sellars also used the entire space, with the chorus occasional singing from above you, and with some of the lead singers freely roaming the entire building.
The Berlin public in the nearly sold out hall was as enchanted and enthusiastic as I was, we got more than 10 minutes of standing ovations and cheering.
A truly memorable evening.
My rating: 5 stars