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The Cunning Little Vixen
Published Monday 23 June 2014 at 10:34 by George Hall
New to Garsington’s repertory is Janacek’s moving opera drawing parallels between the lives of humans and those of forest animals, as well as the interaction between them; it seems a natural choice for a venue set in the midst of a country estate and surrounded by beautiful woods.
Claire Booth, right, in The Cunning Little Vixen
Photo: Tristram Kenton
And so it proves in Daniel Slater’s thoughtful staging. Presenting animals on stage can be perilous, but with the help of Robert Innes Hopkins’ canny costuming there is a concentration here on what humans and animals have in common. The set manages to suggest both the village inn, where the menfolk relieve their boredom by drinking, and the forest itself.
The human story of the villagers - perfectly exemplified by Timothy Robinson’s touching Schoolmaster, Henry Waddington’s worldly Priest, Joshua Bloom’s bumptious poacher Harasta and, especially, Grant Doyle’s expertly sung and superbly acted Forester - comes into sharp focus in the foreground.
Yet the central animal performances - Claire Booth’s complete realisation of the Vixen, Victoria Simmonds’ knowing yet initially shy Fox, and Bragi Jonsson’s harrumphing Badger - are visualised with style and conviction.
Slater also binds the two worlds cleverly together, with the aid of entrancing work by two dancers in particular: doubling the main characters in Maxine Braham’s sensitive choreography, Chiara Vinci dances the Vixen, beautifully offset by Jamie Higgins, who dances the Forester.
As well as a plethora of smaller roles, there’s also excellent group work from the pupils of Old Palace School and Trinity Boys Choir as the minor denizens of the animal kingdom.
Presiding musically over the show is conductor Garry Walker, who shows a profound understanding of the colours and textures of Janacek’s idiosyncratic writing, and draws exceptional playing from the Garsington Opera Orchestra. It’s an undoubted success for the festival, and a production that will surely win many new admirers for this life-enhancing piece.
Garsington at Wormsley, Buckinghamshire, June 22-July 12
Robert Innes Hopkins (set, costume), Tim Mascall (lighting)
Susan Hamilton (casting), Andrew Quick (production), Katherine Wilde (company manager), Paul Carr (stage manager), Estelle Butler (wardrobe), Sam Floyd (head of lighting), Richard Muller (wigs)
Grant Doyle, Lucy Schaufer, Timothy Robinson, Henry Waddington, Joshua Bloom, Alexandra Persinaru, Claire Booth, Victoria Simmonds
Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.