Young fox takes centre stage in DalOpera’s The Cunning Little Vixen

Four-show run opens February 2

- February 2, 2023

The Vixen, or Sharp Ears, is shown left during a rehearsal for DalOpera's latest production. (Nick Pearce photos)
The Vixen, or Sharp Ears, is shown left during a rehearsal for DalOpera's latest production. (Nick Pearce photos)

You don’t need to be a classical music connoisseur to enjoy The Cunning Little Vixen, DalOpera's latest production.

The folktale follows the adventures of an irrepressible young fox — the Vixen, also known as Sharp Ears — who outwits her human captors to rebuild her life with her forest friends. Her free, unapologetic self-knowledge starkly contrasts the hypocrisies of the human world she escapes.

Filled with animal characters (a rarity in opera) and loaded with humour, there’s something reminiscent of childhood in the story.

“It's a charming and beautiful show," says Betty Allison, the opera's music director. "I think it’s nice to give people things they don’t see all the time. Every time I see it, I love it.”

The 20th-century Leoš Janáček opera's songs and enchanting folk melodies are performed in English as it has been translated from the original Czech by John Murrell.

The show will run for four days (with different casts) on February 2-4 at 7.30 p.m., and February 5 at 2 p.m. Masks are required for audience members.

Purchase tickets from the Dalhousie Box Office

Dedication and perseverance

Cast members persevered through long hours of rehearsals to develop new skills to bring the opera to life.

“Many students are learning fight choreography for the first time, which is a challenging technical skill. To sync that with complex twentieth-century music is a lot at once," said Roberta Barker, an associate professor of Theatre Studies at Dal and stage director on the production.

Added Allison: “This music is truly challenging, and it’s hard to count.”

Despite the steep climb, the performers rose to the challenge to explore their characters.

"I had so much fun," said Stephen Deturbide, a second-year voice student.

Maddie Maitzen, a fourth-year vocal student, felt well supported by the opera’s directors to tackle what she calls the “most challenging music I’ve ever had to learn.”

“It’s been great to know that there are good pillars of support and the whole production has been respectful and prioritized the rehearsal space to be fun and comfortable,” she said.

Messing with the natural order

As playful as the opera is, Barker says it also holds a serious message relevant to today’s dilemma of human impact on the natural world.

“It’s an opera about this tussle between the natural world cycle and its wisdom, how it renews itself, and how humans take control and sort of mess with the natural world,” she says.

A masterpiece that seeks to enlighten the audience about current issues these days is rare. Thus, it is crucial to showcase repertoires that remind people of humanity. This opera tries to give a voice to the natural world, telling humans to be more mindful and kinder towards them as they have a place in it.

“This opera is really powerful as it teaches us about respecting the natural world,” says Barker.


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