FOXIE! The Cunning Little Vixen in La Monnaie

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FOXIE! The Cunning Little Vixen in La Monnaie
FOXIE! The Cunning Little Vixen in La Monnaie

Although the Czech composer Leoš Janáček was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, audiences in Belgian opera houses and concert halls don’t often get an opportunity to experience his outstanding works in live performance. It is surely time to do something about that. The master of Brno is very much to the fore in La Monnaie’s programming this spring. Early in March, the director Ivo Van Hove presents the song cycle Diary of One Who Disappeared as a chamber opera; in mid-April, the Sinfonietta takes its place on the music stands of the La Monnaie Orchestra; in between, moreover, we present a new production of one of Janáček’s absolute masterpieces: the opera that usually goes by the name of The Cunning Little Vixen, but which the director Christophe Coppens has unabashedly (he has his reasons) given the nickname FOXIE!. The Belgian artist is tackling an opera for the first time, in conjunction with the Italian conductor Antonello Manacorda: we can expect a contemporary, imaginative, and stimulating production, a perfect match for Janáček’s music.
 
In 1920, Janáček read, in the newspaper Lidové noviny, a comic strip about the adventures of a vixen called Bystrouška. The spirited little animal is captured one day by a forester. She soon escapes, however, and goes on to joyously explore life and the world: she falls in love, marries, gives birth to lots of cubs, and, finally, is mortally wounded. In the village, over the same period, conventional human life goes on, with all its worries, yearnings, and memories. In 1922, charmed by this material, Janáček began work on an opera loosely based on a number of the story’s episodes. He reworked the original cheerful animal story as a vitalist, deeply poetic meditation on life’s never-ending cycle.
 
In the director Christophe Coppens’s original conception of Janáček’s animal opera, there is friction between the worlds of youngsters and adults within a single small community, as an inquisitive girl known as Foxie makes her own way towards adulthood via some life-changing experiences. In the Italian conductor Antonello Manacorda, Coppens has found someone who, taking the music as his starting point, is actively involved in the overall interpretation. The young maestro’s Mozart-Schubert concert was one of last season’s revelations. He conducts the La Monnaie Symphony Orchestra, the La Monnaie Chorus(prepared by Martino Faggiani), singers from the La Monnaie Choral Academy (coached by Benoît Giaux), and a large cast, mostly made up of singers familiar to La Monnaie audiences.
 
The US baritone Andrew Schroeder, who last season played the crooked Judge Turpin in our production of Sweeney Todd, is Revírník (the Forester), who captures the Vixen BystrouškaThe Dutch soprano Lenneke Ruiten demonstrated as Ophélie (in Hamlet)and again last season as Aspasia (in Mitridate, re di Ponto) that she has all the qualities required to convince as the inquisitive and fearless vixen. The grumpy Revírníková (the Forester’s Wife) is sung by the British mezzo-soprano Sara Fulgoni, whom La Monnaie audiences well remember from Shell Shock and as Maddalena in Rigoletto. The other adults in the village are familiar faces too. The British tenor John Graham-Hall was Kaufmann recently in our award-winning Jakob Lenz; he now plays the lovelorn Rechtor (Schoolmaster), who likes to play cards with the Farář (Priest)/Jezevec (Badger), played by the Russian bass Alexander Vassiliev – seen here in December as General Polkan in The Golden Cockerel. The Poacher Harašta is played by the French bass-baritone Vincent Le Texier, previously seen at La Monnaie as Don Quichotte, as Créon (in Médee), and, in February, as Eumée (in Pénélope). The village inn is run by Pásek and Pásková, played by the Belgian tenor and soprano Yves Saelens and Mireille Capelle.
 
As we immerse ourselves in the animal world, we meet Vixen’s great love, Lišák (Fox),played by the German soprano Eleonore Marguerre (making her La Monnaie debut). Kris Belligh plays Lapák, a dog with artistic ambitions, while Willem Van der Heyden is cock of the walk KohoutBirgitte Bønding is Datel (Woodpecker), Alain-Pierre Wingelinckx is Komár (Mosquito), Beata Morawska is Sova (Owl), Lieve Jacobs is Sojka (Jay), and Margareta Köllner is a Liščička (Fox cub).
 
Many other roles are played by members of the MM AcademyVirginie Léonard sings the part of the mother hen Chocholka, the urchins Frantík and Pepík are sung by Logan Lopez Gonzalez and Marion Bauwens, who also take on the animal roles of Kobylka (Grasshopper) and Cvrček (Cricket), while Heleen Goeminne is the young frog Skokánek and Maria Portela Larisch the Young Vixen (Mala Bystrouška).