An Enchanted and Enchanting Forest
Avery Fisher Hall
06/22/2011 - and 23, 24*, 25, 2011
Leos Janácek: Príhody Lisky Bystrousky
Isabel Bayrakdarian (Vixen), Alan Opie (Forester), Melissa Parks (Forester’s Wife/Owl), Keith Jameson (Schoolmaster/Mosquito), Wilbur Pauley (Badger/Parson), Joshua Bloom (Harasta, a poultry dealer), Marie Lenormand (Fox), Kelley O’Connor (Lapák, a dog), Emalie Savoy (Cock/Jay), Devon Guthrie (Chocholka, a hen), Lacey Benter (Woodpecker), Emily Wagner (Terynka)
New York Choral Artists, Joseph Flummerfelt (Director), Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus, Anthony Piccolo (Director), New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Alan Gilbert (Music Director and Conductor)
Doug Fitch (Director, Scenic and Costume Design), Karole Armitage (Choreographer), Edouard Getaz (Producer), Giants Are Small (Production), G.W. Mercier (Scenic Design), Clifton Taylor (Lighting Design), Cookie Jordan (Make-Up Design)
I. Bayrakdarian and friends (© Chris Lee)
In the unlikely setting of Avery Fisher Hall, the New York Philharmonic, under the inspired and inspiring leadership of its music director, Alan Gilbert, has scored a triumph in its second annual foray into staged opera. Last season, its production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre was a resounding critical and popular success. This week, the same team of Alan Gilbert and Doug Fitch brought us Janácek's jewel, The Cunning Little Vixen, a tale inspired by a newspaper comic strip. Musically and visually the production was simply extraordinary and utterly unforgettable.
The simple staging, dramatic lighting, and marvelously inventive costumes (a synthesis of Julie Taymor and L.L. Bean) evoked a forest world in all its dizzying variety with anthropomorphized animals living what is usually described as a human drama. In a very clever touch which blurred the human/animal distinction even further, the main human characters (with the exception of the Forester and Poultry Dealer) also played animal roles. I was particularly taken with Keith Jameson’s star turn as, in turn, a drunken mosquito and regretful schoolmaster. Fitch and, of course, Janáček gave us all manner of plant, animal and human life and the stages of the cycle of life – the optimism and energy of youth, the travails and disappointments of old age, the joys of love and the pain of loss. It was all there and all wonderful.
As the opera began, we saw the forest teaming with life – children (from the splendid Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus) costumed with whimsy and all weather outerwear – bicycle helmets, ear muffs, backpacks. Later the hens and the cock appeared in my favorite costumes of the evening – with the hens in house dresses and the cock wearing a white suite, red shoes and carrying a briefcase. Sadly – and comically – he and the hens met their end at the hands (or jaws) of the Vixen in a swirl of feathers. Emalie Savoy was simply superb as the cock. Kudos also to choreographer Karole Armitage for this sequence and, indeed, her work throughout the evening.
Gilbert has spoken of his particular affection for this opera and the love showed. The orchestra was in superb form, giving full expression to the composer’s range of moods, harmonies and instrumental colors. The strings with their late Romantic lushness were especially splendid. The modal character of the melodies – evoking native folk songs – was beautifully realized. The orchestra functioned as a great ground of being – the majesty of nature itself – from which and against which the particularities of life arose and ran their course.
The singers were excellent. Isabel Bayrakdarian was a vivacious and passionate Vixen, by turns a young innocent falling in love, a protective if exhausted mother, and a feminist agitator as she fired up the gullible hens before dispatching them. Vocally, she sang with a lovely lyrical quality and acted with extraordinary agility and grace – alternately scampering, leaping, and creeping. Her charming and touching love scene with Marie Lenormand in a trouser role as the Fox (with trousers by the way) was a highlight, with Ms Lenormand’s burnished mezzo blending beautifully with Ms. Bayrakdarian’s sweetly innocent vocal line.
Alan Opie as the forester sang with a rich dark tone and spot on diction. Not a word was lost. He was also dramatically convincing, particularly in the touching scene at the end. Vocal honors go to baritone Joshua Bloom as the evil poultry dealer who kills our Vixen. Bloom has a gorgeous baritone voice – full, resonant and powerful.
My only reservation about this marvelous production concerns the English translation. Because Janácek wrote both libretto and music (in that order), the cadences and inflexions of the original Czech are, it seems to me, essential to the work as he conceived it. All in all, however, this is a production to be treasured. I hope there will be a DVD so that it can be widely shared and enjoyed.
Arlene Judith Klotzko