An unusual opera that is thrust in front of audiences in an unusual fashion. Well, it is certainly fair to say that the presentational premise for this bold adaptation of Leos Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen is a seductive one. Through the utilisation of technology – headphones, to be precise – the immersive experience leads audiences through the beatific squalor of Waterloo’s Vaults. Immersion in this manner might not be altogether new in the modern art space, but the application of it to the fusty stereotype of opera is definitely a novel one.
The positives equal the negatives. First of all, the story transposes time, setting and species from that of animals and the forest to modern day London and of humans. A young, fiery waif – our titular Vixen (Rosie Lomas) – is accosted by Forester (Ivan Ludlow) and taken into his dilapidated foster home. Vixen is preyed upon by her housemates, which leads her feral instincts to resist and make a bolt for the door. She escapes to the streets and, through a fateful encounter, she is charmed by Fox (Robin Bailey). Love casts its spell. The past from which Vixen longs to escape from, however, is never too far behind her, and it reaches out with its grubby paws to commandeer her once more.
The ingenious touches of this production lie in the mishmash of traditional and modern music. This is bolstered through the occasional application of live music from a quintet of instruments. There is real joy to be had in the dizzying, disorientating seesaw between stuttering beats, sweeping symphonies, and cabaret-style live music. This is counteracted by a script laced with poor characterisation. Ironically for an opera, the characters are a little one-note; archetypes and not multifaceted. As a result, the impact of an otherwise intriguing narrative is diluted. Empathy is at a fair distance away.
The pacing is fast: the staging loose; and the language faster, and looser, still. The modernisation of the spoken word has resulted in swearing as the frequent prop and it is a shoe that fits awkwardly. Yes, the language of an urchin might be coarse, but this is lazily phrased and lacking true authenticity. For a short opera that only lasts 75 minutes, it is disappointing that the first half feels like such a drag. The cumbersome scene changes feel unwieldy and stilted, like a badly organised tourist trail.
Fleeting moments of wonderment (and they are there) are engulfed by an interminable whole. The vim and vigour of the performances and staging cannot save this Curate’s Egg. There is talent at the heart of this work from all involved, and there is no doubt that they will all go on to better things, but this is a misfire sorely lacking the necessary tinkering that would have made it hit the mark.
Review by Greg Wetherall
Experience an immersive reimagining of Janáček’s classic opera Cunning Little Vixen at The Vaults where, through headphones, you’ll be transported into a full orchestral soundscape and follow the cast of singers through the tunnels.
Vixen is a young runaway girl on the streets of London. As she begs for help, she is abducted by a man known as The Forester. But as she tries to escape, she becomes the hunted, in a world that has no place for her.
The story unfolds as you explore the uniquely designed space, with singers appearing in front of you, beside you and behind you. In each area you can take a seat and have everything flow around you or remove your headphones for that up close and personal experience of great opera voices.
This is a 360º experience, where opera and great storytelling come to life.
Silent Opera supported by English National Opera
An immersive reimagining of Janácek’s classic opera
02 Jun – 10 Jun 2017