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PREVIEW | The COC Presents Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen — Including A Relaxed Performance

By Anya Wassenberg on November 16, 2023

The Canadian Opera Company presents The Cunning Vixen (Photo courtesy of the COC)
The Canadian Opera Company presents The Cunning Little Vixen (Photo courtesy of the COC)

The Canadian Opera Company will present Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, an opera that examines our relationship to the natural world, and meditates on the cycles of life and death. It’s an inspiring story, and perhaps the perfect entry point to the art form for new opera lovers.

Performances run from January 26 to February 16, 2024, and include a relaxed performance friendly to neurodiverse or differently-abled audiences, as well as anyone looking for a more casual performance experience.

A forest gamekeeper traps a wild fox, and tries to tame her. That’s the beginning of the story.

The Opera

Written in Czech by the composer himself in 1923, the original title Příhody lišky Bystroušky translates to Tales of Vixen Sharp-Ears in English. The title we’re familiar with today comes from the 1927 German adaptation by Max Brod. His title in German, Das schlaue Füchslein, translates more directly to The Cunning Vixen.

The opera consists of three acts, with a libretto inspired by a serialized novella written in 1920 by Rudolf Těsnohlídek. Janáček met with the author to prepare, and studied the animals in the story. Also of note is the fact that the 70-year-old composer was infatuated with a much younger, married woman at the time. The novella, written as an illustrated comic, was originally comic in nature. Janáček, however, saw the possibility for a deeper meaning, and created a philosophical theme revolving around the cycles of life and death.

Musically, he incorporated the folk music and rhythms of Moravia in a story that includes both animal and human characters.

The Cast

The production comes to the COC from the English National Opera.

Vixen (Sharp Ears): Jane Archibald

Canadian-born coloratura soprano Jane Archibald is a Juno Award-winner, and her work appears on many recordings, including Bernstein’s Candide with the London Symphony Orchestra. She was an Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera, and subsequently joined the Vienna State Opera, where she debuted many roles. She has performed on the world’s major opera stages, including La Scala Milan, Carnegie Hall, Barbican London, Royal Opera Covent Garden, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and many others — including the Canadian Opera Company.

Fox (Gold-Stripe): Ema Nikolovska

Macedonian-Canadian mezzo-soprano Ema Nikolovska will make her COC debut in the opera. After earning her Master’s in Voice at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, and completing the Opera Course there, she joined the International Opera Studio at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin. She was a BBC New Generation Artist from 2019-2022, and in 2022 won the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award. A highlight of last season was her debut as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, and as Lucile in Henze’s Cubana at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin. Along with her COC debut, upcoming engagements include Stravinsky’s Les Noces with Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal and Kent Nagano.

Forester: Christopher Purves

British Baritone Christopher Purves has carved an international career performing a variety of roles and repertoire. Beginning with a career as a choral scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, and after a stint with an experimental rock group, Purves went on to work with companies and directors all over the globe. In addition to the COC, this coming season he’ll be performing the role of Alberich in Wagner’s Das Rheingold in the new Ring Cycle directed by Barrie Kosky for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Parson/Badger: Giles Tomkins

Canadian/British Bass-Baritone Giles Tomkins is known for his performances as Colline in La bohème, a role he took on the road with Against the Grain Theatre’s 2019 tour of bars from Toronto to the Yukon. A busy performing schedule includes recent appearances in Edmonton Opera’s Tosca (Sciarrone), Lucia di Lammermoor with Pacific Opera Victoria (Raimondo), and Manitoba Opera’s The Barber of Seville (Don Basilio). Later this season, he’ll be returning to Manitoba Opera to play Zuniga in Carmen, and will sing the role of Fafner in Edmonton Opera’s Das Rheingold.

Forester’s wife/Owl: Megan Latham

The British Columbia native Megan Latham has worked with noted conductors such Harry Bicket, Will Crutchfield, Richard Bradshaw, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, David Agler, and Jeanne Lamon, among others in a career that has included opera, oratorio and recitals. Along with her role in The Cunning Vixen, she’ll be returning to Pacific Opera Victoria later this season for Wagner’s Die Walküre and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro.

Lapák, a dog: Carolyn Sproule

Montréal native Carolyn Sproule is a graduate of The Juilliard School (BM 2010), and Rice University (MM 2012). Along with her COC appearance in The Cunning Vixen, the busy mezzo-soprano return to The Metropolitan Opera singing Third Lady in The Magic Flute, and make her debut with the Pacific Opera Victoria in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen. Carolyn will also be returning to the COC as Page in Salome later this season.

Relaxed Performance | February 13

The opera will remain the same, but the mood will be relaxed for the February 13 performance. It’s designed to accommodate the needs of neurodiverse or autistic audience members, and the differently-abled community, as well as anyone who’d enjoy a less formal opera experience.

What does that mean?

  • Lower sound levels;
  • House lights dimmed, but not switched off;
  • Audience members can get out of their seats as needed;
  • A venue guide to help audience members prepare;
  • Seats set aside for an ASL viewing area for audience member who are deaf or hard of hearing;
  • Designated seating areas with more space between them.

People with service animals or mobility devices can select seats that will accommodate them, and arrangements can be made for audience members who need a support person.

  • Tickets and more information about all performances available [HERE]. Information and tickets to the Relaxed Performance available [HERE].

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