Major Operas | The Cunning Little Vixen by Leoš Janáček | Modern Era
First performed in Brno on 6 November 1924, this opera, based on a story by Rudolf Tešnohlídek, centres around a little vixen known as ‘Sharp-ears’. Janáček’s music is colourful, evocative, playful, full of Moravian folk references and often very moving, combining ballet, mime, vocalization without text, orchestral interludes, a chorus and sung dialogue to create a rich sampling of nature and its many layers of life.
Having bought a country home in Hukvaldy, where he was born and raised, Janáček enjoyed daily walks in the forest, and this work sees the natural cycle of the forest come full circle when, after giving birth to her own cubs, the little vixen dies at the hands of a poacher. Janáček doubled certain roles so that some of the animals play humans, and the final scene is a deeply felt tribute to the natural world. In line with the composer’s request, the ‘Forester’s Farewell’ was played at his funeral in 1928.
Premiered: Brno, 1924
Libretto by the composer after Rudolf Tešnohlídek’s novel Liška Bystrouška
The forester rests in the forest. A young vixen examines a frog, which jumps on the forester and wakes him. He seizes the vixen and takes her home. That autumn the vixen is in the forester’s yard. The dog moans that he knows nothing about love, but the vixen has heard scandalous stories from the sparrows. She rejects the dog’s advances. She fights back when two boys bait her. Tied up, she dreams she is a young girl. Provoked by the cock, she unsuccessfully urges the hens to rise against him. Fed up with their ignorance she kills them, bites through the rope and escapes.
The vixen insults a badger so grossly, backed by a swarm of flies, that he abandons his comfortable home. As they play cards in the inn one winter night, the forester teases the schoolmaster about his love for Terynka, a gypsy. The parson glumly warns them against women. On his way home the schoolmaster drunkenly sees his Terynka in a sunflower, behind which the vixen is hiding. The parson recalls the girl who cheated on him when he was a student. The forester shoots at the vixen and misses. The vixen is smitten by a handsome fox, who is impressed by her exciting life and by her house-ownership. She wonders if she really is beautiful. He offers her a rabbit and courts her with increasing passion. The owl is shocked by their activities inside the den. When they come out she is crying. The fox arranges an immediate wedding.
Harašta is going to marry Terynka. The forester warns him against poaching and sets a trap. The vixen and the fox are playing with their cubs. The trap does not fool them. The fox wants a larger family. Harašta returns and sees the vixen as a muff for Terynka. She pushes her luck too far and is shot. The forester has found her den empty.
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