In recent years, Janáček's loveable The Cunning Little Vixen has taken its rightful place among the 20th century's great operas. It is the most human of works, which is an irony, when many of its characters are animals and birds, lifted by the composer from a comic strip in a daily newspaper.
A life-long fan, Simon Rattle says it is “the piece that made me want to become an opera conductor”. He chose it for his debut at the Royal Opera in 1990 and there is already a recording by him, sung in English, derived from that production.
This new LSO Live set was recorded at the London Symphony Orchestra's semi-staged performances at the Barbican two years ago. Enjoyment there was diminished by a half-baked staging, which made no distinction between humans and animals, so that it was difficult to tell who was doing what to whom.
That is not a problem on this audio recording and the high quality of the music-making comes to the fore. Rattle is marvellously pictorial in the forest interludes, getting the insects to buzz, the birds to chirrup with lifelike presence. Lyrical episodes are much indulged, but there is danger lurking too, and the performance pulses with emotion.
The cast, singing in the original Czech, is headed by Lucy Crowe as a gleaming Vixen and Sophia Burgos as the Fox. Gerald Finley makes a mellifluous and sympathetic Forester. The earlier recording conducted by Janáček-expert Charles Mackerras is difficult to beat, but this one brings the drama vividly to life.
‘Janáček: The Cunning Little Vixen’ is released by LSO Live
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