The Glimmerglass Festival presented Janacek’s lushly melodic opera “The Cunning Little Vixen” in an brilliantly realized production (shared with with Boston University’s Opera Institute.)
Glimmerglass’ resident artist, Pennsylvania bass-baritone Eric Owens, performed the lead male role of the Forester. One or more of each of the opera’s other 35 roles were performed by members of the Glimmerglass Festival Young Artists Program (or members of the Glimmerglass Youth Chorus).
The allegorical tale focuses on the reactions of the human and animal worlds when a Forester (Eric Owens) unwisely decides to bring home a female fox kit to make her into a domestic pet.
[Below: The Forester (Eric Owens, right) has second thoughts about keeping the Vixen (Joanna Latini, left) as a household pet; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Joanna Latini’s Vixen, Alyssa Martin’s Fox and The Vixen’s World
New Jersey soprano Joanna Latini’s enchanting performance as the Vixen, the opera’s central role, garnered audience sympathy.
[Below: Joanna Latini as the Vixen; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Latini’s dramatic acting evoked wild nature. We understand the Vixen’s defenses when trapped in the human world – biting the Forester’s son, attacking the egg-laying hens, escaping from the ropes holding her captive rather than allowing herself to be domesticated.
Latini’s vocal performance was resplendent in her duets with her life partner, the Fox (passionately played by North Carolina soprano Alyssa Martin.)
[Below: the Fox (Alyssa Martin, left) assures the Vixen (Joanna Latini, right) that she is the only one he has ever loved; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
The insects, amphibians, birds and mammals of the Vixen’s forest are intelligible (especially with a new English translation of Janacek’s Czech opera by Louisiana linguist Kelley Rourke). In this production, the artists who play the forest creatures dress in Georgia designer Erik Teague’s clever costumes.
[Below: the Mosquito (Dylan Morrongiello, front) seeks human blood as the Woodpecker (Gretchen Krupp, back left) looks on; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Although the animal’s conversations suggest the animals possess human attributes, they survive in a Darwinian natural order.
[Below: Michelle Arotsky as the Cricket and Rachel Kay as the Grasshopper; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
One of the production’s features is the complex casting of Glimmerglass Festival Young Artists in multiple roles.
An example are the six hens that whose egg-laying routines the captured Vixen disturbs. Each of the hens has multiple parts, thus multiple costumes, hairstyles and makeup for each animal or human character that each artist portrays.
[Below: the domesticated egg-laying hens (left to right (Hen 1) Michelle Arotsky, (Hen 2) Anju Cloud, (hen 3) Alyssa Martin, (Hen 4) Rachel Kay, (Hen 5) Olivia Barbieri, (Head Hen) Gretchen Krupp; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival. ]
Hen 1 (New Jersey actress Michelle Arotsky) is also the Cricket. Hen 2 (California dancer Anju Cloud) is also a Dragonfly and a Dancer. Hen 3 (Alyssa Martin) is the Vixen’s husband, the Fox. Hen 4 (California dancer Rachel Kay) is the Grasshopper. Hen 5 (New Jersey dancer Olivia Barbieri) is a Dragonfly and a Dancer. The head hen (Virginia mezzo-soprano Gretchen Krupp) is Pasek’s wife and a Woodpecker.
Other forest creatures include Florida tenor Dylan Morrongiello as the Mosquito and the Schoolmaster; Iowa mezzo-soprano Kayla Siembieda as the Screech Owl and the Forester’s Wife; Massachusetts soprano Katherine Maysek as a Squirrel and the domestic dog, Lapak; Ohio soprano Amber R. Monroe as the Jay and the Rooster; Illinois bass Zachary Owen as the Badger and Parson); Minnesota tenor Brian Wallin as the Boar and Pasek, the Innkeeper; and Kentucky bass William Clay Thompson as the Wolf and Harasta, the Poacher).
Glimmerglass Youth Chorus members Emma Novak was a Young Vixen) and Lilly Grady was the Frog and a vixen’s kit). Two other Youth Chorus members, Maggie Stephens and Catie LeCours were both the Forester’s children, Pepik and Frantik, and two of Vixen’s and Fox’s kits.
Eric Owens’ Forester and The Forester’s World
Owens’ intense acting and resonant bass-baritone as the Forester were yet another triumph for Owens, after an extraordinary year. Although the role is much smaller than the iconic roles he has assayed in recent months – Wotan [Review: Chicago’s Imaginative New “Walküre”: Goerke, Owens, Jovanovich, Strid Excel – Lyric Opera, November 30, 2017] and Philip II [Review: “Don Carlo” – Washington National Opera’s World Class Verdi Singing, March 14, 2018] – he brought vulnerability and humanity to Janacek’s allegorical character.
[Below: Pasek, the Innkeeper (Brian Wallin, left) confers with the Forester (Eric Owens, right; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
The opera explores the Forester’s relationships with a few of the humans that live near the forest – his wife and kids; the Innkeeper and his wife, to whose establishment the Forester escapes for drink and companionship; the Forester’s friends, the parson and schoolmaster; and the poacher, Harasta.
[Below: The Forester (Eric Owens, right) is greeted by Harasta, the Poacher [William Clay Thompson, left); edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
In contrast to the Vixen’s natural world, the human’s world is amorally exploitative of nature. Wild animals are domesticated to serve human needs or are killed to provide material for a lady’s fur muff.
Ultimately, the Forester gains understanding of the life cycles of the natural world and at opera’s end embraces them.
[Below: The Forester (Eric Owens,right), now understands that the Frog (Emma Novak, left) represents a new generation, and begins to appreciate nature’s cycle of life; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
Maestro Joseph Colaneri and the Musical Performance
The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Janacek’s “Cunning Little Vixen” is extraordinary in so many ways – each part beautifully sung, the augmented Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra playing Janacek’s arresting melodies so luminously under the direction of Maestro Joseph Colaneri.
E. Loren Meeker’s Direction and Eric Sean Fogel’s Choreography
Massachusetts director E. Loren Meeker produced crisp, fast-moving staging, enhanced by the creatures dancing and stage movement by South Carolina choreographer Eric Sean Fogel. The results suggest a close observation by the choreographer of the natural movements of the various species of forest creatures that the opera encompasses.
[Below: Director E. Loren Meeker; edited image, based on an Instagram photo from Facebook/E Loren Meeker.]
Erik Teague’s Costumes, Dave Bova’s Makeup and Hairstyles and Ryan McGettigan’s Sets
Adding immeasurably to the success of the show were the creature costumes of Erik Teague. Special mention has to made to New York designer Dave Bova, who not only had to create hairstyles and makeup for a large cast, but had to work out the logistics of how artists playing two or more roles would move back and forth between the costumes, often with only a few minutes between change
[Below: the set desigsn of designer Ryan McGettigan; edited image, based on a Karli Cadel photograph, courtesy of the Glimmerglass Festival.]
The sets of New Hampshire designer Ryan McGettigan, if only suggesting forest and human habitations, were serviceable.
I enthusiastically recommend the production, cast and Janacek’s scintillating operatic scores for both the veteran opera goer and persons of all ages new to opera.