The Cunning Little Vixen
Royal College of Music
English National Opera
Janacek’s wonderfully unsentimental and warm-hearted opera about animals and human beings and the relations between them turned out to be an inspired choice for the students of the Royal College of Music to stage at the Britten Theatre. Any self-proclaimed opera lover who doesn’t keep a close eye on what the colleges are doing is a fool, a snob or a liar, probably all three. It is often in the intimate settings of their theatres that one has the most enjoyable experiences, partly thanks to the proximity to the performers, partly because since none of them has to strain to produce enough noise they sound as if singing is their natural mode of communication.
With Janacek, who was obsessed with speech patterns, their rhythms and pitches, singing as an intensification, no more, of what we do all the time is almost always most satisfying in small theatres. I only wish that enunciation were a more emphasised item in the training of these singers. As always, the lower voices weren’t hard to understand, but though the Vixen herself, Sadhbh Dennedy, was enchanting to look at, to watch, to hear, I only understood her intermittently, so that the reason for the shape of her vocal lines was rarely apparent — Norman Tucker’s admirable English translation is at pains to stick closely to the original. In the Vixen’s scene with the Rooster and Hens, which was brilliantly staged, it’s vital that her feminist harangue to the Hens be heard, since it sets the scene for her massacre of them and her escape. The way the Hens moved, and the astoundingly chicken-like noises they made, reflect the greatest credit on Jo Davies, the director.