So impressed was I by Doug Fitch’s direction of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen that I was inspired to search my notes on his 2005 Turandot at Santa Fe Opera. Here’s what I wrote. “This is the best Turandot I have ever seen. During the intimate scene in Act I between Liu, Calaf and Timur, there are minimal distractions.” So, much of the credit for The New York Philharmonic’s presentation of “The Cunning Little Vixen” must go to director Mr. Fitch who filled the stage with captivating woodland creatures cavorting on a simple but effective set and costumed with consummate cleverness and dazzling originality.
Among these creatures, the Vixen herself was convincingly portrayed by the captivating soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian whose vocal and physical ease made the drama believable. Mezzo Marie Lenormand was equally gifted in the role of her mate. Baritone Alan Opie was excellent as the Forester. The roles of the Schoolmaster and the Parson were finely performed by tenor Keith Jameson and bass Wilbur Pauley who also doubled as a Mosquito (!) and a Badger. Australian baritone Joshua Bloom portrayed the poultry dealer Harasta and was the only singer whose diction was so perfect that one didn’t need to read the English titles. Mezzo Kelly O’Connor was a totally adorable dog.
Although every small role was performed at the same high level, it was particularly rewarding to notice some personal favorites recognized from Juilliard who have been making names for themselves around town and winning competitions--sopranos Devon Guthrie and Emalie Savoy and mezzo Lacey Benter.
Alan Gilbert led the NY Philharmonic in a beautiful reading of a delightfully tuneful score. Special notice was taken of some interesting melodies in the wind section. Karole Armitage did some outstanding work as choreographer and there was a charming solo danced by Emily Wagner as the desirable young woman of the village. Cookie Jordan was responsible for the elaborate make-up which perfectly complemented Mr. Fitch’s costume designs.
My personal preference would have been to hear the opera sung in the original language, the better to appreciate the rhythm of the language dancing with the rhythm of the music. I suspect that there are not many singers available who can learn the role in Czech but I hope no one is claiming that it is easier to relate to operas sung in the language of the audience. Save for the one singer noted above, the titles were essential to understand the words which tended to get swallowed up in the cavernous Avery Fisher Hall. That being said, it was with profound joy and gratitude to the NY Philharmonic that we were able to experience a rarely seen opera during the operatic off-season. Let’s have more!
© meche kroop for The Opera Insider
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