Unlike most operas, where the emphasis is on the tragic or the ridiculous, Janácek’s story of forest life is one we can all identify with personally. It celebrates sexual awakening, the riot of procreation, and the cycle of death and renewal that binds every living creature. That is one reason why Vixen might appeal to young performers. The other is its spread of parts: none is large or demanding, but all offer scope for witty characterisation. So Vixen was an apt choice for Scottish Opera’s annual collaboration with the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, putting professionals-in-training alongside professionals in every department from orchestra to technical backup. Just as important as its educative role, however, is the way this type of production has filled out the opera repertoire in a country that is otherwise limited to a meagre four shows per season. Vixen puts a happy face on economic hardship.
It made sense to haul out, one last time, David Pountney’s tried and tested staging. Since its debut 31 years ago, it has been one of Scottish Opera’s most lucrative exports. Though still effective, Maria Bjornson’s undulating set is starting to look its age, as are Pountney’s mating rituals. This revival by Elaine Tyler-Hall puts greater emphasis on choreography – a good idea in principle, as Janácek’s extensive instrumental passages create an opening for the RSAMD’s dance department. In the event the balletic interludes seem inadequately tailored to the story. There are other problems: the singers labour to project over the orchestra, so that much of the English text is lost. And the conductor, Timothy Dean, focuses more on keeping ensemble together than shaping phrases dramatically.
The enterprise nevertheless exudes a vitality in keeping with the material, and in Marie Claire Breen, one of Scottish Opera’s 2010-11 Emerging Artists, the production has a Vixen of beauty and radiance. Warren Gillespie’s Schoolmaster and Douglas Nairne’s Dog create the most vivid cameos, but as usual the Cock and Hens steal the show.
Repeated at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre on January 27 and 29.