Foxy lady fulfils her promise

Julian Boyce as a dog and Sophie Bevan  as the Vixen. Pictures: Catherine Ashmore 

 The Cunning Little Vixen

Welsh National Opera

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

IT FEELS like spring has finally arrived with this colourful and imaginative production by Welsh National Opera.

Nature's bounty is everywhere from emerging flowers to baby animals as the action romps its way across a meadow scene.

And fecundity is certainly at the heart of Janacek's opera. The entire work is pregnant with it – from the foxes making eyes at each other across the forest to the group of old has-beens still discussing their hopes in love.

When the Vixen Sharpears and her husband fill the stage with fox cubs it is a fulfilment not just of their need to reproduce but of the very cycle of nature which means that life goes on regardless.

Janacek's opera is broad in scope brining in themes of the domination and liberation of women, capitalism versus socialism, sexual exploitation and even animal rights. And yet it never becomes pedantic.

Even when Sharpears is berating Badger for his smug riches and the fact his sett could actually home three people it is laced with humour rather than didacticism.

Directed by David Poultney with this revival by Elaine Tyler-Hall, the production never lets up pace. There is not a moment when something is not happening. And Maria Bjornson's set is a feast for the eyes. It is simple and yet totally effective, as a green backdrop moves into winter simply be being covered by giant white sheets and then back into spring by removing them again. A handful of bright flowers and we know we are moving season again.

Sophie Bevan  as the Vixen and Meriel Andrew as a hen

The costumes are just wonderful – from the Vixen's cheeky flapper dress and leggings to incredibly intricate representations of a range of creatures from crickets to caterpillars and hares to hedgehogs.

Everywhere the production is bursting with ideas – such as the Owl, Woodpecker and Jay sitting and knitting in their rocking chairs in the sky.

Sophie Bevan is charming as the Vixen – winsome and loveable yet just that little bit cruel when it suits her. Her duet with Sarah Castle as the dog Fox is captivating as she stands of the verge of sexual awakening and is not quite sure she wants to make that leap.

Forester (Jonathan Summers), Parson (Richard Angas), Poacher (David Stout) and Schoolmaster (Peter Van Hulle) bring just the right level of tired worldliness and humour as they nurse their drinks in the inn and bemoan the missed opportunities of their lives.

The children playing a host of animals are fabulous, totally confident and capturing their characters wonderfully.

And the orchestra, under the baton of Lothar Koenigs really bring Janacek's score alive ensuring it also gains its rightful place on the stage.

Staging an opera such as The Cunning Little Vixen, there are so many potential pitfalls and yet this production easily escapes them, instead offering us a lively and entertaining show full of vigour and fun

Diane Parkes 

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