An introduction to The Cunning Little Vixen

Janáček‘s exploration of the fairy tale genre blends comic with tragic, leading to a touching philosophical reflection on the nature of life and death. Or simply a light hearted story about a mischievous fox, and the antics she gets up to in the forest.

Read up on Janáček’s novel twist on a literary tale before our 2021/22 Season production:

Janáček’s take on a newspaper comic

Composed between 1921 and 1923 and premiered in 1924, The Cunning Little Vixen was written by Leoš Janáček, based on a serialised novella titled Liška Bystrouška. Written by Rudolf Těsnohlídek, The Cunning Fox was published in the Czech newspaper Lidové noviny as a little comedy tale inspired by comic strips. After Janáček came across the story, he met with the author and requested he write an opera based on it. The more philosophical elements came from Janáček himself, whose one-sided adoration of the younger and married Kamila Stösslová led to multiple works being based on the woman, including the titular Vixen. The futility of his relationship with Stösslová led to the introduction of the themes found in the third act of The Cunning Little Vixen, and the cyclical nature of life and death.

The Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody lišky Bystroušky; more accurately translated as Tales of Vixen Sharp-Ears) concerns the titular fox, who finds herself taken home by a forester to be kept as a pet when it was a little cub. The opera follows this cub into adulthood, as she seeks to escape the forester and what happens after. The piece has tragic and philosophical elements, whilst retaining its comedic heart at times when the Vixen’s cunning antics get the better of others.

ENO and the Vixen have a history…

Back in 1961, the first English performance of The Cunning Little Vixen was performed by Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, conducted by Colin Davis and directed by Colin Graham. This opera company would go on to become English National Opera as you know it today, before we moved to the London Coliseum. We’ve previously performed the opera in 1995, 1996 and 2001.

The Cunning Little Vixen you’ll see in 2022 is a brand new production, exploring man’s relationship with nature through a clear artistic lens. With costumes and sets designed by Tom Scutt, it is directed by Jamie Manton (Paul Bunyan, The Day After). Journey from the monotone world of men to the colourful and lively world of the animals, and see how one chance meeting can send ripples coursing through both.

Book for The Cunning Little Vixen at English National Opera, 18 February – 1 March 2022.

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