Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen
opens our winter season, led by COC Music Director Johannes Debus on the conductor's podium. Ahead of the show's opening, hear directly from Johannes as he explores his own journey into the fantastical woods of this rare operatic gem.
With the first notes of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen
we enter a cosmos of a different kind, filled with the wondrous language of Mother Nature. The music pulls us into a magical world in which we think and feel differently: where our lungs expand further, our minds wander to different places, and our hearts become attuned in different ways.
It is the Moravian woods, Janáček’s homeland, that we enter. All kinds of animals mingle there in the eerie, mystical half-light of the forest: a badger, a frog, a blue dragonfly, a cricket, a grasshopper, an owl, a jaybird, a fox, fox cubs, and of course our titular hero, the vixen: a kind of “Fantastic Ms. Vixen” —rambunctious, subversive, audacious, and cunning. And this world of anthropomorphic animals, recognizable from all kinds of literary fables, intersects with the human world of the forester and other idiosyncratic characters: a pastor, a schoolmaster, and a poacher among them.
In both worlds, the eternal process of birth, death, and rebirth is central; in fact, The Cunning Little Vixen
could be described as one great hymn to nature’s creation, or as an alternately vivacious and contemplative love letter to life itself.
Janáček was a true maverick who developed his own unique musical language. There is nothing else like it to prepare us for his musical style. Moravian folk elements, a harmonic and melodic language with Impressionistic traits, and—crucially—the rhythm of the Czech language form this highly original, evocative, and expressive soundscape. Unfulfilled dreams and the tragic, nostalgic, ironic, and sometimes bitter elements that nest in the gap between aspiration and reality—all such human imperfection lies at the heart of his stories, often captured with surrealism and humour.
My love for Janáček started when a friend of mine from university days suggested the bold idea to bring Janáček’s opera Katja Kabanova
to the stage. I was very young, too young for all the layers of such deeply felt music, but the mysterious spell of it got me completely hooked. To bring Janáček back to our stage at the COC, where his operas were performed regularly under Richard Bradshaw’s leadership, gives me special pleasure. It is my hope that for those who have already made their acquaintance with Janáček it will feel like meeting with an old friend, and for those who meet him for the first time it will be an experience a bit like mine: that you will become hooked, even without knowing yet exactly why.
In the final scene of the opera the forester contemplates his own life. After all he has observed in nature and learned from it, he falls asleep in contentment. The orchestra rises to soaring heights as if drawing a radiant halo around him. It is with this feeling of rejuvenating transcendence that we exit the Moravian woods and leave the theatre.
Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen runs from January 26 – February 16, 2024 at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.Buy your tickets now!