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The Cunning Little Vixen review at Barbican Hall, London – ‘enchanting and sumptuous’

Gerald Finley and Lucy Crowe in Janácek's The Cunning Little Vixen, Photo: Mark Allan
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The London Symphony Orchestra closes its Barbican season with this semi-staging of Janacek’s opera about the relationship between humans and the animal world, set in the Czech forest where the Cunning Little Vixen herself lives and dies.

Visually, it’s necessarily simple, the action taking place on (and occasionally under) a raised platform positioned in front of the orchestra. Here the singers act out their roles, human (as in Gerald Finley’s spiritually developing Forester), or animal (as in Lucy Crowe’s undeterrable Vixen), and with some performers bridging the divide with a character or two on either side (Peter Hoare switches from the crusty old Schoolmaster to the bumptious Cock to the blood-sucking Mosquito).

Central to the success of this enchanting eco-opera are the videos by two members of Yeast Culture comprising hundreds of moving images of nature, from tiny insects through to foxes — perfectly attuned to the action and the overall theme.

The hardworking professional cast fields several memorable performances, notably Hanno Muller-Brachmann as the villain of the piece, the poacher Haraschta; Jan Martinik as the Badger ruthlessly evicted by the Vixen and the Parson — one of the sad group of middle-aged drinkers at the village inn; and Paulina Malefane, tripling up as the Forester’s long-suffering wife, the Owl and the Woodpecker.

Exceptional, too, are the two large choral ensembles who play the groups of forest animals, especially those celebrating the Vixen’s wedding to Sophia Burgos’ dapper Fox, and later their numerous offspring, represented by members of the London Symphony Chorus plus the well-trained kids of LSO Discovery Voices.

Conductor Simon Rattle, meanwhile, draws sumptuous sounds from the orchestra in a favourite work.

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Peter Sellars makes a virtue of simplicity in his semi-staging of Janacek’s opera