Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen at NY Phil Concert, 6/24/11

by danielgoode

June 25, 2011 1:26:16 AM EDT

Do you ever long to edit someone’s work to save what is fabulous and make disappear what, well…what stinks? Just read on. But first: a piece of schlock was added to Janacek’s opera by director Douglas Fitch, and—unaccountably—by that very in-choreographer, Karole Armitage: little diaphanous wings pasted onto scampering children, fox tails onto grown singers, archaic titles like “Forester” instead of woodsman or hunter or farmer, or anything of that ilk. Cutsey-poo, sentimental animal stuff that adults think children like. But there was a critical blowback from all this onto the music itself, forcing one to peer into Janacek’s overuse of whole-tone scales and their augmented chords as holding patterns between segments of ravishing, ecstatic music of his late years, with orchestrations to tear you apart with beauty. His pre-Minimalist repeating, sequencing, spiraling patterns of melody, rhythm, chords, counterpoints with their gritty, off-kilter modelings of Czech folk music, oh yes, that’s all in there in the manner of his late string quartets and the blazing Sinfonietta. If only I could have done some on-the-spot excision. That’s a funny composer-fantasy I’ve been having. Or you could try to justify those holding patterns as recitative, or even as Janacek’s functional substitute for sprechstimme. Dream on! You’d have to be him to do the re-stitching of the good parts. And you’d have to go in there again to re-write the prosaic and clunky English translation. It’s an early 1920’s libretto by the composer with some odd feminist moments between the Vixen and the other barnyard animals. Maybe it’s better in Czech. In the last act Janacek has the cunning Vixen shot dead. Well why not? Isn’t the Vixen that other species of female: lower class/gypsy/family-destroyer/composer-temptress? the OTHER!—with that kind of thing, scarcely disguised as a “folk tale” re-written to still be a folk-tale about a femme fatale. For Americans there is also an echo of Bambi—a terrible mash-up to dwell upon. I remember her death as being heartbreaking, musically. And then after that, life just continues on with the usual banalities. But I didn’t stay to re-experience those moments. I left at intermission. Thumbnail review.