Janacek: The Cunning Little Vixen

Our rating 
2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Janacek
LABELS: BBC Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Janácek
WORKS: The Cunning Little Vixen
PERFORMER: Voices of singers from European Opera Centre, etc; Deutsches SO Berlin/Kent Nagano; anim. Geoff Dunbar
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0839 D
The fact that the inspiration for Janá?ek’s The Cunning Little Vixen was a newspaper cartoon strip might suggest an animated version of the opera would be a sure-fire success. But for various reasons I’m not totally convinced by this adaptation, which was shown on BBC2 at Easter. Firstly, Geoff Dunbar’s animated style seems too brash, too Hanna-Barbera in its block-colour approach, making the characters seem less personable than when acted by humans on stage, though there’s a real sense of atmosphere conjured up by the backgrounds. Secondly, to appeal to the short attention span of today’s children, the opera has been cut to under an hour, chiefly losing the scenes with the human characters that were so important in Janácek’s dramatic vision of the parallels between the natural world and human society.

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Thirdly, the recorded balance is so geared to getting the English words across that the voices sound as if they are in a totally different environment from the orchestra, which means the singers, in a dry, over-dubbed foreground acoustic, can never sing out in true operatic style for fear of tipping the balance even further awry. As such, the performances from the mainly young singers are not on a par with the best high-level staged accounts, such as the glorious Châtelet version under Charles Mackerras, reviewed last September, but the result will I’m sure appeal to younger viewers.

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The extras include a revealing documentary about the process of animating the opera and an option to watch the work itself via the animator’s storyboard. Matthew Rye