Cunning Little Vixen

Perelman Theater, March 20

The Cunning Little Vixen  Leoš Janácek’s 1924 opera, is the fourth chamber opera collaboration by Curtis Opera Theatre and Opera Company of Philadelphia and from every angle Vixen has proved the most successful.  Among other things, it was very cunning of them to bring in Amy Smith, one of the artistic director’s of Headlong Dance Theater, to choreograph and completely animated the story. Janácek’s magic realism is for adults and children — playful animal characters but the gritty underbelly of eat or be eaten, fox or be outfoxed world.

The score is packed with orchestral intrigue and magic — character instrumentations and shimmering earthiness. The two-tier set by Laura Jellinek is a curious domicile for humans and  the hens, foxes, insects, dogs, bunnies and a few transpecies creatures appear and vanish in recesses that peek at the forest outside.

Brandon Cedel plays the Forester who traps the animals for food, clothing or pets. He traps the young vixen, but she soon figures a way out.  Elizabeth Reiter, in a rust colored sun dress is a mature Vixen who not only rebels against her own captivity, she rallies the hens to free themselves from egg-laying bondage.

The vixen eventually escapes from being tied up and is courted by the Fox, played by mezzo soprano Kisten MacKinnon, who comes on strong, but has no nefarious agenda other than wanting to make a happy life with the Vixen. Forest creatures abound with a fantasia of vocal sounds by Janacek.

The musical and choral interludes featured 30 singers and a dance cast that included such Philly modern dance troubadours Kate-Watson Wallace, Nichole Canuso and John Luna.

The hen chorus brings operatic hysterics and the spirited Pennsylvania Girlschoir playing vixen’s brood charm vocally as they scurry everywhere. The wild kingdom wedding dance with all of the creatures breaking into the electric slide is too fab.

Janácek’s vocal lines are so fluid that it just sweeps you into the story. At the center are the crafted and flinty performances by Cedel and Reiter. Reiter has such an inventive soprano range, able to surprise ala the character’s wild heart. Great vocal chemistry with Kristen MacKinnon who plays her mate. Cedel kept his Hunter the deepest roundness bass-baritone.

Emma Griffin’s stage director keeps everything visually interesting, yet breezy enough not to detract from the music. The Curtis Orchestra, conducted by Corrado Rovaris, played with such passion and pristine detailing, like they were celebrating Vixen’s musical uniqueness. Peter and the Wolf, eat your heart out.