It’s always great to gauge a performance by the audience reaction. And even better when children are the viewers.
So, I knew we were in for a treat when the lively school audience at The Lowry in Manchester greeted the opening curtain of Opera North’s “The Cunning Little Vixen” with a raucous roar.
Opera is always a tricky one when it comes to youngsters. It’s hard to balance telling a tale through music, singing and dancing and not making it too heavy.
But Opera North obviously know what they are doing, because their performance of this beautiful tale was simply spell-binding and kept the youngsters transfixed and even quiet for most of the performance.
Split into three short parts and with beautiful and colourful scenery and costumes, it was a joy to watch.
Originally written by Czech composer Leoš Janáček in the early 1920s and interpreted by David Pountney, it is still pertinent today, telling a tale of nature, winter, ageing and death, which turns magically to spring and new life.
The production is a masterpiece performed by Opera North’s principal members or guest artists, joined for the first time by enthusiastic conductor Andrew Gourlay, who leads the musical ensemble with aplomb.
Set in an idyllic looking forest, the opening scene sees the forester (James Rutherford) taking a nap while the caterpillar (Amiee Fischer) and cricket (Isabelle Payne) give a concert. A young vixen (Kenya Black), exploring the area for the first time is caught by the forester and taken home and tied up as a pet, but is targeted by the family’s children and pet dog (James Davies).
Keen to escape, she tries to enlist the help of the female hens (Molly Barker, Gillene Butterfield, Cordelia Fish, Claire Lees) , but when they fail to respond, the vixen slaughters them and makes her escape.
Liberated, Vixen Sharp Ears (Elin Pritchard) sets up home in the badgers lair and teases the school master (Paul Nilon) and parson (Henry Waddington) who stumble home from the pub, after taunting the forester for allowing the vixen to escape. They in turn remember past loves as the vixen marries the fox (Heather Lowe).
A litter of cubs (Phoebe Connolly, Lucy Eatock, Phoebe Garner, Lottie Gray, Isaac Jackson, Eliza Knowles, Oliver Mason, Jennie Sapiro, Chloe Sturman, Cece Ward) join the vixen and fox and they taunt the forester and poacher (Callum Thorpe) who has set them a trap, using a dead hare (Siena Christou). In the process, the vixen is shot dead, leading the humans to reassess their lives, with only the forester accepting old age and lost opportunities and sleeping with contentment in the forest, among the animals.
Cue – wolf whistling and loud applause from a very enthusiastic and appreciative audience and the cast lapped it up!
Opera North are at The Lowry this week with performances of Puccini’s Tosca today (Thursday) and Saturday and Strauss’s Adriadne auf Naxos on Friday. For more information, ticket availability and pricing, please visit: https://thelowry.com.
Rebecca Hay is an experienced travel writer and member of The British Guild of Travel Writers. Follow her adventures with her family on Twitter and Instagram @emojiadventurer and on Facebook via EmojiAdventurers2.
Photographs by Tristram Kenton courtesy of Opera North/The Lowry