Peabody Opera Theatre stages rare, charming 'Vixen'


November 23, 2008|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,

Before fantasy films made it commonplace to find human and animal characters mingling freely, there was a curious, endearing opera from 1924 by Leos Janacek. Best known in English as The Cunning Little Vixen, it's getting a rare local staging by Peabody Opera Theatre under a more literal translation of the Czech title: The Adventures of Sharp-Ears the Vixen.

The plot revolves around the aging Forester, who catches a vixen, Sharp-Ears, and tries to domesticate her. The vixen escapes back into the forest, falls in love with a fox and gets shot by a poultry dealer. In the end, the Forester muses on the renewing cycle of nature, the notion that what we lose comes back somehow.

Thursday's performance in Peabody's Friedberg Hall held rewards and disappointments. (For a more detailed review, go to my blog.) Hajime Teri Murai conducted with a strong appreciation for the score's extraordinarily evocative power, and he drew from the student orchestra's vibrant, if sometimes untidy, playing.

The large cast proved spirited, if not entirely cohesive and comfortable. (A different cast performs today.) In the title role, Jessica Thompson proved to be a dynamic actress, very into the whole foxy thing, but needed more tonal warmth, more distinctive phrasing. As the Forester, Nathan Wyatt lost ground in the upper register, but his singing was sensitive. Benjamin Moore, as the vixen-slaying Harasta, projected firmly and put an expressive spin on his words.

Misha Kachman's set delivers charm, as does Kristina Lucka's whimsical costume design. Roger Brunyate directs neatly, if with limited humor and depth.

The final show is at 3 p.m. today at Peabody Conservatory. Call 410-659-8100, ext. 2.

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