JANACEK: The Cunning little Vixen (complete opera) x 2, Blu-rays (2013)

by | Jan 9, 2014 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

JANACEK: The Cunning little Vixen (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

Performers: Isabel Bayrakdarian (Vixen)/Quinn Kelsey (Gamekeeper)/ Dennis Petersen (Schoolmaster)/ Judith Christin (Gamekeeper’s Wife/ Orch. and Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino/ Seiji Ozawa
Director: Laurent Pelly
Studio: Arthaus Musik 108 094 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: HD Color 1080i for 16:9
Audio: PCM Stereo 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: German, English, French, Spanish, Italian, Korean
All Regions
Length: 103 minutes
Rating: *****

JANACEK: The Cunning little Vixen (complete opera), Blu-ray (2013)

Performers: Lucy Crowe (Vixen)/Sergei Leiferkus (Gamekeeper)/ Adrian Thompson (Schoolmaster)/ Sarah Pring (Gamekeeper’s Wife/ Glyndebourne Chorus/ London Philharmonic Orch./ Vladimir Jurowski
Director: Melly Still
Studio: Opus Arte OA BD7117 D [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: HD Color 1080i for 16:9
Audio: PCM Stereo 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
Subtitles: German, English, French, Korean
Extras: “Creating Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen” (23 min.); Cast gallery
All Regions
Length: 97 minutes

Where to start with the Glyndebourne production? Well, if you like to watch animal characters humping one another and having simulated sex, this might be for you. Or if the very idea of the main character, the Vixen, urinating on someone appeals to you, again, your Blu-ray has arrived. Or maybe it’s the idea of an extremely confused psychological dimension in the opera that attracts, so that the costumes of the animals look a lot like the people, and vice-versa, resulting in a lot of intricate and very indiscernible action that is hard to follow. Despite the fact that Janacek based his opus on the serialized novella (daily comic) by Rudolf Těsnohlídek and Stanislav Lolek, and originally considered it a “comic” opera (not bawdy), the composer was influenced by his own unrequited love of a much younger woman to transform the piece into a rather serious philosophical tome on life and death, placing himself in the role of the Gamekeeper, and his love into that of the Vixen.One could consider the Glyndebourne production as trying to explore those psychological constructs, but then the rather coarse and even vaudevillian aspects of the production don’t fit into something that lofty; I feel as though a constant pull and tug between serious and vulgar never gives me a chance to fully understand where the director really wants to go. Vocally it is very good, Sergei Leiferkus is top drawer as the Gamekeeper, with Lucy Crowe somewhat behind in vocal opulence though technically very fine. But overall the production is just too constipated in effect and overly-busy; and truthfully I am a bit surprised that some sort of vulgarity rating wasn’t affixed to the packaging.

If Crowe is good but not great, the roles are somewhat reversed in the Ozawa. Isabel Bayrakdarian an astonishingly effective Vixen, while the Gamekeeper of Quinn Kelsey is wonderfully affecting in the acting and only slightly less so in the singing. Still, the pairing of the two wins hands-down the matchup with Glyndebourne, and the orchestra is actually more sumptuous in tone that the sometimes beleaguered LPO. But the single most stunning thing about the Italian effort is the costumes, absolutely gorgeous in every regard, intricate and complex, and which make for a phenomenal experience in high definition Blu-ray. The animals look like animals, which makes the interaction of the human and animal worlds all the more striking and magical than one perceives in the Glyndebourne production. And the absence of gratuitous shock value only services the ideals of Janacek’s conception more fluently. Ozawa, whom I have not had much contact with via any sort of media the last 10 years, has developed into a first rate opera conductor, and there is simply nothing more that can be desired in this wonderful production.

—Steven Ritter

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