BWW Review: Pacific Opera And Sydney Youth Orchestra Present THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN At Sydney Grammar School
Friday 2 October 2015, 7pm, New Hall, Sydney Grammar School, Darlinghurst
Leoš Janá?ek's THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN is reinterpreted by Michael Campbell (Director) in this new collaboration between Pacific Opera, Sydney Youth Orchestra and Sydney Grammar School. It is appropriate that this comic opera, filled with whimsy but hiding a darker subtext, has been selected for the combination of younger emerging artists and students.
The modern Sydney Grammar School auditorium which utilises concert hall style seating of a combination of traditional front facing seating, side galleries bordering the walls, and choral stalls has been adapted to present the work. A raised walk surrounding the orchestra located on the floor in front of the traditional stage and lighting rig scaffolding expand the performance space with Astroturf and stylised pipe 'trees' being the only concession to the forest location of the work. It is noted that the location of the galleries did make it difficult for the audience in these seats to see parts of the performance staged at the sides of the stage with patrons in the rear seats having to stand to see what was going on.
Campbell has altered the work with the opening scene which in turn greatly alters the message of the story from one of relationships between man and nature and time and lifecycles to a darker, vengeful, spiteful story of unattainable love. Opening on Terynka's wedding, the loutish Forester is subdued by medical staff after he tries to disrupt the ceremony. This variation then sees the story turn into a dream sequence according to the program notes but as it plays out on stage with minimal text this is unclear. Whilst re-imagination and reinvigoration can be useful in ensuring works remain relevant to new audiences, Campbell has given what should be a sweet story a very dark, adult, tone from the initial sedation of the Forester, to his aggressive capture of the vixen, the burlesque styled chickens and the crass manner in which the Vixen taunts the poacher.
The choice to create this work without a choreographer is also clear as movement could be refined to better differentiate humans from animals without resorting to child's play characterizations such as the vixen and the dog crawling around on hands and knees and the chickens adopting a juvenile mime. There is also a lack of movement with purpose amongst the ensemble which causes confusion and gives this work an amateur feel. The lack of human and animal delineation flows through to the costuming (Caitlin Hodder) which sees the anthropomorphic animals defined with a minimal of reference to their species. The vixen and her kits are defined only by their crawling movement and fur collars, the chickens by minimal feather boas and dog by a dreadlocked wig. The supposedly "hippy" Terynka is hampered from free-flowing movement by a dress of heavy fabric, which, when combined with the lack of facial expression and minimal choreography, reduces the message that she is supposed to be the beautiful free spirit that the Forester, Schoolmaster and Parson are pining over.
As the Vixen, Alexandra Flood presents the stand out performance with sweet vocals and a cheeky interpretation of the Vixen. Aside from the directors selection that she crawl on hands and knees for the initial introduction of the character, once performing upright, Flood gives the Vixen the requisite lightness. As the Forester, Alexander Knight is clear in his delivery. This work is presented in English and Knight is the only singer that is consistently understood.
The orchestra's interpretation of Janá?ek's work is beautiful and carries the performance. John Harrison's sound design however does let the singers down as, whilst wearing body microphones, the sound balance allows the vocals to be overpowered by the orchestra.
If this work is viewed as simply supporting young emerging talent, both on stage and in the orchestra pit, it serves its purpose. I look forward to seeing Alexandra Flood, Alexander Knight and the Sydney Youth Orchestra in future works.
New Hall, Sydney Grammar School, Darlinghurst
2nd and 3rd October 2015