Guardian crit of Cunning Little Vixen

Emotional charge … Anna Harvey as Lapák, Claire Booth as the Vixen and Katherine Crompton as Chocholka in The Cunning Little Vixen. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

Guy Dammann

Monday 23 June 2014 15.07 BST

One of the crucial scenes in Janáček's The Cunning Little Vixen takes place in a country inn, where the connection is drawn explicitly between the escaped Vixen, whom the Forester captured as a cub, and the village beauty Terynka, haplessly pursued by the Schoolmaster. Terynka is frequently discussed but never seen in the opera, yet inGarsington's ravishing new production, directed by Daniel Slater, we do meet her: in the opening scene she slinks through the inn, brandishing red shoes and fox-fur collar, pouting moodily at her old flame, the married Forester.

 The hens - part of a fabulous ensemble cast. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian.

It's a wonderful opening, whose powerful emotional and sexual charge is fully borne out in the action that follows, and Slater's decision to blur the tragicomic lines between the animal and human characters is entirely to Janáček's point. Lines are also blurred in Robert Innes Hopkins's charming, economical set, whose ivy wallpaper dresses indoor and outdoor scenes (and is shown peeling and mouldy in the final autumn scene), and in the quirky, dressing-up-chest quality of the costumes: the mosquito's wings are torn umbrellas, its proboscis a petrol-can funnel; the chickens' combs are inflated red washing-up gloves.


Claire Booth heads up a fabulous cast with a knockout performance in the title role. Her voice is well suited to choppy writing, but her command of the role's irrepressible passion exceeds even high expectations, and the scene in which she reflects on having found a true mate is almost unbearably moving.

She is well matched by Grant Doyle's powerfully sung and subtly acted Forester, and supported by excellent performances in the minor roles, especially Timothy Robinson's Schoolmaster and Lucy Shaufer as the Forester's Wife. Garry Walker's handling of the music is sharp-eared, to say the least, and he and his superb house orchestra remain totally alive to the score's nervous, tumbling surface throughout – as well as to the darker currents bubbling underneath.

• Until 12 July. Box office: 01865 361636. Venue: Garsington Opera at Wormsley, Stokenchurch.