Peabody's 'Vixen' leaves little to the imagination

November 23, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Leos Janacek was a composer who left a lot to the listener's imagination. All he tells us at the end of his "The Cunning Little Vixen," for example, is that the Forester, the main character, "lets his gun slip from his hands."

In his lifetime, the composer steadfastly refused to let his interpreters make more of that conclusion than he thought they should, including suggestions that the Forester has joined the Vixen in death. The composer wanted to leave what happens to the imagination. He concluded "The Cunning Little Vixen" with some of the most powerful music ever composed for an opera's close -- music that suggests the inexorability of nature from generation to generation. To suggest anything more specific diminishes the music's (and its subject's) grandeur.

The problem with the Peabody Opera Theatre's production of the opera, which opened on Thursday and concluded yesterday, is that, much too frequently, it aimed at such specificity in its staging. John Lehmeyer, who directed the production (and costumed it as well), is an intelligent man and just about everything he suggested in his interpretation of Janacek (who wrote his own libretto) can be found in the text. That final trans-species bond between the Vixen and Forester, which I find so objectionable, is indeed suggested by the music. The music that accompanies the Vixen's transformation into a human being in Act I returns triumphantly in the last pages of the opera. But what makes the return of that music so powerful is its subtlety. To make it explicit needlessly distracts us and robs the music of its poetry and its ability to move us.

This simply may have been too delicate a piece to be attempted by students, no matter how talented. "The Cunning Little Vixen" is indeed about death and sex -- most great art is -- but this production took such pains to remind us about the latter that sometimes it approached bedroom farce and soft-core sentimentality.

The cast I heard on Saturday did well by Janacek's music. As the Vixen, Lorri Ann Williams did not evoke all the passion in the love duet in Act II, but her young frisky voice (and appearance) was captivating. Andrea Edith Moore, in the short role of the Vixen's mate, was sometimes slightly shrill in an otherwise strong performance. Best of all was Arturo Chacon, whose hearty portrayal of the Forester, the emotional and dramatic center of the opera, was filled with humanity.

The performance by the student orchestra, which was conducted by Hajime Teri Murai, paid attention to both the details and the passionate conviction of Janacek's great music.

Pub Date: 11/23/98

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