Watch the fox from the box

Leoš Janá?ek’s charming light opera Den fiffige lille ræv (The Cunning Little Vixen) opens at the Royal Danish Opera on December 15 for 14 fabulous shows all the way to February 3. Staged by renowned international director Francisco Negrin, this production promises to be an imaginative and lively interpretation. Expect an impressive towering set, colourful projections, and a stage alive with a myriad of imaginatively costumed creatures and larger-than-life creepy-crawlies.

Even though Janá?ek is known and loved by opera-goers, it is probably fair to say that his time has not come yet. With contemporaries such as Puccini, Strauss, Mahler and Debussy, it is easy to overlook Janá?ek’s own masterpieces such as Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass. However, there is no denying that his operas are becoming increasingly popular on the world stage. Stylistically, his music has central European folk music overtones combined with tantalising dashes of modernism. Completed when the composer was at the ripe old age of 70, Den fiffige lille ræv contains some of his most experimental operatic concepts such as mime and ballet. Historically, this opera has a soft spot in the hearts of Danish opera lovers − dating back to a 1963 TV performance featuring the legendary Ellen Winther and Villy Hartmann.

Originally inspired by a 1920s newspaper cartoon strip, Den fiffige lille ræv is often described as a comic opera.

Interpretations of the piece have ranged from light-hearted children’s entertainment to full-blown tragedy, but ultimately the piece stands in stark contrast to some of Janacek’s more uncompromising works. Here, we have the story of a playful and over-curious little fox cub, captured in the forest by a gamekeeper, who decides to takes it home as a pet. After some time, the fox escapes back into the forest, leaving a trail of bloodshed and chaos behind her. Without giving too much away, the opera follows the lives and loves of both the fox and the forester, ending poignantly on the ever-recurring themes of life and death.

There is symbolism aplenty in this meeting of the dual forces of human nature and nature itself. But the opera works on more than one level. The simplicity and approachability of the piece make it ideal family fare. Indeed, the Opera is presenting it as “an imaginative and magnificent family show, recommended for children from the age of six”. The set design has been created by no less a designer than the acclaimed Es Devlin. The British creative genius has worked on sets together with stars such as Lady Gaga, Take That, Kanye West and the Pet Shop Boys. More recently, the spectacular closing ceremony at the London 2012 Olympics gave a taste of how Devlin loves to make full use of an arena or stage: in this case, a towering design that manages to combine the modernist aspects of Janacek’s music with the more fluid themes of wildlife. Sneak previews indicate that another highlight of the performance will definitely be the intricate origami-inspired costumes by the much sought-after designer Carole Bailey.

The performances on 5, 12 and 27 January and 3 February will be aptly preceded by an origami workshop in which guests can attempt to master the skills of the classic Japanese art of paper-folding by shaping sheets of paper into the cunning vixen and other animals from the opera. On 5 and 12 January and 3 February, there will be a 90-minute workshop behind the scenes to witness the costumes at close hand and participate in a bit of amateur theatrics.

These pre-operatic titbits always prove popular, so don’t forget to make free reservations when you are booking your tickets.

That the piece also had a deep personal meaning for the composer is reflected by the fact that Janacek specifically requested that the final scene of the piece be played at his funeral. It is hard not to be touched personally by the story, music and performance of Den fiffige lille ræv, contemplating as it does the often harsh, yet ultimately natural and inevitable realities of life, love and death.

Den fiffige lille ræv
Opera house, Store Scene, Ekvipagemestervej 10, Cph K; starts Sat, ends Feb 3, performances 19:00 on Sat, Tue & Thu, with further performances on Dec 22, Dec 27, Dec 29, Jan 5, Jan 8, Jan 12, Jan 14, Jan 17, Jan 25, Jan 27, Feb 3; tickets 75-495kr; 90 mins, no intermission; sung in Danish;

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