The fable of The Cunning Little Vixen, also known as The Adventures of Vixen Sharp-Ears, is a story of the cyclical nature of life.
The Vixen cub that the Forester takes home with him eventually grows up and has cubs of her own. The Frog that the cub chases past the Forester in the first scene has gone through the same cycle, and his grandchild passes the Forester in the final scene. Regardless of what the humans are doing in the story, the forest continues to go through its cycle of life, renewing and replenishing. On a parallel level, the humans in the story are following the same cycle. They are falling in love and getting married, and trying to ascribe a deeper meaning to these events beyond the continuous cycle of life.
Opera in 3 acts
Sung in Czech
About 1 hours 45 min + intervals
In the forest, the animals and insects are playing and dancing. The Forester enters and lies down against a tree for a nap. A curious Vixen Cub (usually sung by a young girl), inquisitively chases a frog right into the lap of the surprised forester who forcibly takes the vixen home as a pet. Time passes (in the form of an orchestral interlude) and we see the Vixen, now grown up into a young adult (and sung by a soprano), tied up in the forester's yard with the conservative old dachshund. Fed up with life in confinement, the vixen chews through her rope, attacks the Cock and Chocholka the hen, kills the other chickens, jumps over the fence and runs off to freedom.
The vixen takes over a badger's home and kicks him out. In the inn, the pastor, the forester, and the schoolmaster drink and talk about their mutual infatuation with the gypsy girl Terynka. The drunken schoolmaster leaves the inn and mistakes a sunflower behind which the vixen is hiding for Terynka and confesses his devotion to her. The forester, also on his way home, sees the vixen and fires two shots at her, sending her running. Later, the vixen, coming into her womanhood, meets a charming boy fox, and they retire to the badger's home. An unexpected pregnancy and a forest full of gossipy creatures necessitates their marriage, which rounds out the act.
The poacher Harasta is engaged to Terynka and is out hunting in preparation for their marriage. He sets a fox trap, which the numerous fox and vixen cubs mock. Harasta, watching from a distance, shoots and kills the vixen, sending her children running. At Harasta's wedding, the forester sees the vixen's fur, which Harasta gave to Terynka as a wedding present, and flees to the forest to reflect. He returns to the place where he met the vixen, and sits at the tree grieving the loss of both the vixen and Terynka. His grief grows until, just as in the beginning of the opera, a frog unexpectedly jumps in his lap, the grandson of the one who did so in Act 1. This reassurance of the cycle of death leading to new life gives his heart a deep peace.
Bystrouška – Soprano (lyric)
Sharp-Ears, the Vixen
Zlatohřbítek – Soprano/Mezzo-soprano
Gold-Spur, the Fox
Forester's wife – Contralto
Schoolmaster – Tenor
Forester – Baritone (dramatic)
Bystrouška's child - Soprano
Chocholka - Soprano
A crested hen
Cricket child - Soprano
Frantík - Soprano
Frog child - Soprano
Grasshopper child - Soprano
Jay - Soprano
Midge child - Soprano
Mrs. Páskova - Soprano
Pepík - Soprano
Rooster - Soprano
Lapák the dog - Mezzo-soprano
Owl - Contralto
Woodpecker - Contralto
Mosquito - Tenor
Pásek - Tenor
Badger - Bass
Harašta - Bass
Priest - Bass
Place of birth: Hukvaldy, Moravia
Place of death: Ostrava, Czech Republic
Leoš Janáček was a Czech composer, musical theorist, folklorist, publicist and teacher. He was inspired by Moravian and other Slavic folk music to create an original, modern musical style.
Until 1895 he devoted himself mainly to folkloristic research. While his early musical output was influenced by contemporaries such as Antonín Dvořák, his later, mature works incorporate his earlier studies of national folk music in a modern, highly original synthesis, first evident in the opera Jenůfa, which was premiered in 1904 in Brno. The success of Jenůfa (often called the "Moravian national opera") at Prague in 1916 gave Janáček access to the world's great opera stages.
Janáček's later works are his most celebrated. They include operas such as Káťa Kabanová and The Cunning Little Vixen, the Sinfonietta, the Glagolitic Mass, the rhapsody Taras Bulba, two string quartets, and other chamber works. Along with Dvořák and Bedřich Smetana, he is considered one of the most important Czech composers.
“Submit to love faithfully and it gives a person joy. It intoxicates, it envelops, it isolates. It creates fragrance in the air, ardour from coldness, it beautifies everything around it.”
He was fascinated with animal sounds.
Most prominent operas
Leoš Janáček wrote the librettos for most of his operas.
The libretto was adapted by the composer from a 1920 serialized novella, Liška Bystrouška, by Rudolf Těsnohlídek, which was first published in the newspaper Lidové noviny (with illustrations by Stanislav Lolek).
4d2, 3, 3, 3 - 4, 3, 3, 1
timp, perc, harp, celesta, strings
The Cunning Little Vixen premiered in 1924 at The National Theatre Brno conducted by František Neumann.
Described as a comic opera, it has nonetheless been noted to contain a serious theme. Interpretations of the work remain varied, ranging from children's entertainment to a tragedy.