3 June 2012

The Cunning Little Vixen at Glyndebourne

My first (of five) visits to Glyndebourne this year was to see The Cunning Little Vixen.

With five visits to look forward to, three of which I will be taking friends and family to, this was an opera-only trip, i.e. I arrived just in time to settle in before the start of the opera and took a very light picnic (sandwiches from the local deli) and no drinks.

There was time for a Pimms from the Long Bar however so it was not a completely frugal evening.

I was not that desperate to see this opera either so went for the exceedingly cheap seats (B2 in Upper Circle Blue) which, at £45, actually seemed a little steep as the safety rail cut across the middle of the view. Seat B3 at the same price only had a small obstruction. Luckily B4-7 were a no-show and I was able to move across to a better seat.

The Cunning Little Vixen is bit of a strange choice for Glyndebourne. It's a short and slight opera with little in the way of songs in it.

The music is wonderful and is truly evocative of the natural world in which the story is set.

A lot of the time the music tells the story on its own or when there is singing it is simple recitative.

Glyndebourne seems to think that this is not enough to make a proper opera and has chosen to go over the top with a frivolous production that detracts from the music rather than compliments it.

The low point was probably when one of the female cast was in the tree (I think that she was meant to be a bird - it was hard to tell) and she squatted to urinate on a man below.

That was possibly humorous in a Benny Hill sort of way but that is entirely unnecessary and inappropriate in a Janacek opera.

Similarly the children running around as rabbits and foxes could have been cute in context but here they only served to draw attention away from the main story and, more importantly, the music.

The way that I survived the experience was to pay as little attention to the set as possible and to concentrate on the music which was, as I said, marvellous.

The story, such as it was, had a nice ring to it. The natural order is natural and is to be celebrated even when it means that living things die. Even cute vixens.

And this vixen was cute, and also playful and saucy. This shone through in her singing and her acting which were faultless. Again to pick just one example to make the point, when she meets the fox for the first time she acts like a typical flirty teenager tying her blouse up higher and shuffling her dress down a little to reveal as much of her midriff as possible.

The trend in theatre is to have minimalist sets and to let the actors and audience fill in the gaps, and I like that. This is also what Glyndebourne did when I first started going regularly around ten years ago and I think that it is a shame that they seem to be moving more and more towards the populist West End experience. Music this good does not need a helping hand from props and frocks.

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