Leoš Janáček’s fantastical opera The Cunning Little Vixen comes to the CCM stage April 8 – 10 as part of this year’s Mainstage Series. To share what inspired his vision for the anthropomorphic production, Stage Director and Choreographer Vince DeGeorge reflected on the relationship between humans and nature with CCM Public Information Graduate Assistant Charlotte Kies.
Could you tell me about your inspiration for the design of the masks in this production?
I’ve had this little vixen figurine for about 10 years. It was a gift from my wife, and it has become a touchstone for this project. You’ll see the geometric nature of the fox sculpture reflected in the masks by third-year graduate student and Costume Designer Oran Wongpandid. They’re very cool looking. There’s a sort of formalism about this little creature that I love, but there’s also a playfulness that embodies the spirit of this production.
How do they use these masks?
They carry the masks and sometimes wear them. They don’t sing with the masks on. One of the things that is most prevalent in this opera is the relationship between humans and animals. The actors come on stage as humans and they transform into animals in front of the audience. It’s a simple transformation through movement and mask work.
Is this something traditionally done, or is this a new idea of your own?
That’s something that I bring to it. Mark Halpin, the designer of the set, and I have never done a show together but we’ve worked a lot together. He sort of understands my aesthetic and he brought his own point of view to it as well. He has come up with this design that I think really embodies this very human aspect of this story. We become animals to tell a very human story.
What is that human story?
I think the human story is that every day, life is happening all around us. Often times we are too distracted, or aggressive, or controlling to notice. If you actually take the time to be aware, you will experience everything that’s going on around you. You may not experience all of it, but you will be more receptive to experiences. That’s the journey of the Forester, from very aggressive and controlling, to very open and receptive.
The Vixen has a different journey. She starts very innocent, open and receptive. Then events occur that change her to become more aggressive and more controlling. She eventually finds her way back into a much more open and receptive place with her love, the Fox.
What’s so beautiful about this opera is that it runs in cycles, in circles. Someone starts a scene and ends up in almost the same place, but something has changed within them. There is a giant cycle that’s going on within the entire opera and the Vixen has a cycle that’s running through her and the Forester. We don’t see the top of the Forester’s cycle but we see him changing back to this more open and receptive person. The music just cycles and cycles in a wonderful repetition and revision that Janáček is an expert at creating.
That sort of fits in with what I’ve read.
The opera is full of life cycles! But within them are tiny little journeys that are going on within ALL of the characters.
That is one aspect that makes this opera so amazing, and another reason why Mark and I decided to set it in a more distilled, abstract way, as opposed to setting it in the 1920s or in Czechoslovakia. To nail it down to a certain time period could diminish the universality of the performance. It doesn’t have a time period, but I think the story in itself is timeless. I’m not saying this is the way to approach this opera, this is the way we approached it.
Is this opera often translated into English?
Well, I’m not an expert at that. What I can say is that when I was an undergrad here, David Adams was my voice teacher. Then he did the translation of my first opera here!
That’s a nice little cycle!
Yes, it is! And even though he is a professor emeritus here, David has been at a lot of rehearsals. He has been really involved. It’s been fantastic to work with him in a very different way and still learn from him.
Was it his choice to put this in English?
Actually, David wrote this for Professor Kenneth Shaw’s production here but then retired after spending a lifetime here. This is one of our ways to thank and honor him and the work that he’s done for CCM.
Are English-sung operas a theme this year?
Well, that’s something that we as a department really made an effort to do this year. Both Mainstage Operas were in English, which is more challenging to sing than other languages. The students need to learn how to sing in English and make it understandable and not lose their vocal quality.
Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen runs April 8 – 10 in UC’s Corbett Auditorium. Mark Gibson conducts with stage direction and choreography by Vince DeGeorge. This production will be sung in English, with a new translation by CCM Professor Emeritus David Adams. You can learn more about the production here.