Opera in three acts
Duration: 1hour 30 minutes without interval
Music: Leoš Janáček (Composed 1922-3)
Libretto: Composer after Rudolf Tĕsnohlídek
Premiered: Brno 6/11/1924
Read more about the performance history of
The Cunning Little Vixen by clicking
Catalogue Number: JW I/9
With The Vixen Janáček returned to the theatrical experimentation
of Osud and Brouček, moving away from the predictable
operatic story-line of Kát'a Kabanová. In 1920 the Brno popular
newspaper Lidové noviny commissioned Rudolf Tĕsnohlídek to write
a novel to be serialised which was to be based around a series of
drawings by Stanislav Lolek telling the tale of the adventures of Vixen
Sharp-ears. According to Marie Stejskalová’s reminiscences, published in
1959, it was she who introduced the Vixen to Janáček. She kept the
cuttings from the newspaper, which was the inspiration for the work, and
Tĕsnohlídek’s novel became the basis for the libretto. Despite the fact
that many have argued its experimental basis; use of children on stage,
preponderance of ballet scenes, the very use of a cartoon as the
inspiration for an opera. It is also greatly indebted to operatic
heritage. It follows on from the post-Wagnerian Märchenoper (‘fary-tale-opera’)
tradition as made paradigmatic in Humperdinck’s operas Hänsel und
Gretel and Königskinder. Equally its use of a travesti role
(the Fox) to suggest youthful or sexually virile personalities (after
Mozart’s Cherubino, Verdi’s Oscar, Massenet’s Chérubin or his Prince in
Cendrillon, Strauss’s Octavian, Humperdinck’s Hänsel) shows a
debt to tradition, which is sometimes overlooked. In its
quasi-anthropomorphic treatment of the animals (some of the roles are
doubled with those of the humans too) Janáček looks back with Beatrix
Potter’s and Kenneth Grahame’s cuddly creations to an Ovidian world.
However Janáček moves away from pure traditionalism by pioneering a
fantastic musical language for the forest, based on his ‘notebook’ of
animal sounds and a bitter sweet lyricism for the Vixen and the Fox (at
its most heady in the Act One dream interlude and their Carmina Burana-style
nuptials in Act Two). These stylistic innovations are married with a
moving pantheistic close where the Forester realises, in one of
Janáček’s most tender passages that nature has a cyclical basis, which
goes much beyond the traditional mirrors of the Märchenoper genre, such
as found in Dvořák’s Rusalka. It has, unsurprisingly received a
large number of performances across the world; it is perennially popular
with children as an introduction to opera and is to be animated by the
BBC in the near future, to be shown on Easter Sunday 2003.
The Forest. How Bystrouška was caught. Summer
The badger dozes in the heat of the afternoon, pestered by flies. The
Dragonfly dances. The Forester pauses for a nap on his way home. While
he sleeps, the Cricket and the Caterpillar give a concert. A young Vixen
is exploring the forest for the first time. The Forester wakes, and
seizes the inexperienced cub.
The yard of the Forester’s cottage.
Bystrouška grows up in the Forester’s home.
The Vixen endures the morose sexual advances of the Dog, and defends
herself vigorously against the baiting of the Forester’s children. She
is tied up for her pains. The Vixens dreams of her sexual awakening and
liberation. Outraged by the economic and sexual slavery of the Hens, she
becomes a feminist. But the Hens’ conservatism is too much for her, and
she systematically kills them all. She confronts the Forester, and
The Forest. Bystrouška acquires a home
The refugee Vixen returns to the forest, and ruthlessly evicts the
Badger. She settles gratefully into his comfortable home.
The Inn. Winter
The Forester, full of drink, baits the Schoolmaster about his hopeless
passion for Terynka, a gypsy girl. The Parson is pursued by his own
sexual guilt and remorse. But the Forester too is susceptible when he is
taunted about the Vixen that he lost, and finally rushes out in pursuit
The Forest. Winter
The Vixen haunts the Schoolmaster and the Parson as they stumble home
from the inn. The Schoolmaster mistakes her for Terynka, and is inspired
to the single passionate outburst of his life. The Parson recalls his
fatal encounter with a seductive young girl in his student days. The
Forester wildly hunts the Vixen through the forest.
The Forest. Spring
The Vixen finds a mate, and is soon obliged to marry.
The Forest. Bystrouška is killed. Autumn
The poacher Harašta is going to visit Terynka, whom he is to marry. He
finds a dead hare - one of the Vixen’s victims. The Forester warns him
to stay off poaching, and sets a trap for the Vixen. The Vixen and her
mate play with their cubs. They find the trap, and ridicule the
Forester’s incompetence. Harašta returns to pocket the Hare. The Vixen
at first outwits him, but becomes carried away by her exalted defiance
of man, and is shot.
The Schoolmaster bitterly regrets his lost opportunity - Terynka is to
marry today. The Forester however accepts his growing age, and gladly
sets out for a quiet nap in the forest.
The Forest. Summer
Inspired by the beauty of nature, the Forester’s imagination is awakened
for a moment of radiant spiritual perception. He sleeps and dreams of
the Vixen. A Frog reminds him of the inevitable cycle of nature.
According to the Janáček's maid, Marie Stejskalová, it was her laughing
at the newspaper cartoons of the adventures of vixen Sharpears that drew
her master to the subject of Příhody Lišky Bystroušky. The story which
appeared in 1920 the Brno newspaper Lidové noviny was itself inspired by
a set of drawings by Stanislav Lolek.
Click here to see a selection of the cartoons
which inspired Rudolf Tĕsnohlídek and Leoš Janáček with the story of the
Ed. & Tr. Tyrrell, John, Intimate Letters: Leoš Janáček to Kamila
Stösslová (London: Faber, 1994)
Tyrrell, John: Janáček’s Operas: A Documentary Account (London:
Singing in Czech: A Guide to Czech Lyric Diction and Vocal Repertoire
(Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2001)
Timothy Cheek is also preparing a libretto of The Cunning Little
Vixen (due for publication April 2003), which will contain the
original Czech, word-for-word English translations, idiomatic
translations (also available as supertitles), IPA, and notes on cultural
and stylistic matters.
Universal Edition (Full Score only for hire)
Popp, Randová, Jedlička, VPO: Mackerras (Decca 417129)
Watson, Montague, Allen, ROH Ch and Orch: Rattle (EMI CDS 754212 2)