UNL Opera presents ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’
calendar icon23 Sep 2020 user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen
Lincoln, Neb.--UNL Opera will present Leos Janacek’s “The Cunning Little Vixen” on Saturday, Oct. 3 and Sunday, Oct. 4 at 5 p.m. in the outdoor patio of Kimball Recital Hall. Fully amplified, you’ll be able to see and hear the opera from anywhere on the lawn of the arts quad.
There will be no charge for the event. Visit music.unl.edu closer to the performance dates to get the most current information regarding audience protocols. The opera will also be livestreamed on Friday, Oct. 2 at 5 p.m. The link to the webcast is https://go.unl.edu/cunninglittlevixen.
Staged by UNL Director of Opera William Shomos, this 90-minute opera will be sung in English with projected supertitles.
For Shomos, presenting the opera outside was the best chance at producing an opera during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Back in very early April, I was looking ahead, considering how we might produce an opera in a pandemic fall,” he said. “What if we were faced with every imaginable restriction short of the University being shut down and totally remote? What if audiences couldn’t be safely accommodated in a theatre? What if singers had to wear masks when singing indoors? For me, there seemed to be one obvious and only solution if I wanted to present live opera, and that was to do it outside. I thought of how much I have always enjoyed outdoor concerts and began to ask, ‘Why not?’ The ideas flowed from there.”
“’The Cunning Little Vixen’ is a story about life, love and rebirth,” said Karin Berg, an undergraduate voice major, who is playing the role of the Forester’s Wife. “It is a lively, fun and meaningful story that I think we can all enjoy and relate to.”
Berg said even though she misses performing in Kimball Hall, performing outdoors is fun.
“It feel like we’re in the setting of the opera,” she said.
Olivia Hacker, a first-year graduate student in music from Indianapolis, Indiana, who is playing The Vixen, agrees.
“Honestly, this work almost begs to be presented outdoors,” Hacker said. “I think we’re all able to explore the story better due to the outdoor space, in that, nature is automatically included as the narrative sphere.”
Hacker describes The Vixen as “feminine, witty, adventurous and quite strong-willed.”
“Her adventures throughout the opera whisk along, intertwining aspects of her risk-taking lifestyle with the instincts of other animals and humans,” she said. “Let’s just say she knows how to leave an impression.”
Shomos said the singers will perform from the patio of Kimball Hall’s main entrance, with some fun excursions into the grass and foliage. A nine-piece chamber group, the Trace Chamber Society, led by Rebecca Nederhiser, will perform Janacek’s orchestration from behind the singers in the lobby of Kimball Hall. A large LED screen will frame the playing space with illustrations that will unfold the story. The performers playing various animal characters will be operating beautiful, large-scale puppets. The singers and orchestra will be amplified.
“While there’ll be a limited number of reserved chairs for the audience, I hope people will look forward to bringing blankets and lawn chairs to enjoy the opera from any vantage point they like (much like Jazz in June),” Shomos said.
A large projection screen will unfold the story through a series of illustrations designed by Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film alumnus David Tousley (M.F.A. 2015).
“The source for Janacek’s opera was an illustrated serial written by Rudolf Tesnohlidek concerning a Forester and clever Vixen fox,” Shomos said. “Using the large LED screen back drop to unfold the story through colorful illustrations was a fun nod to that original material. I had worked with David as a scenic designer when he was a student in the Johnny Carson School a few years back. I knew that he was an illustrator as well, so it’s been great to work with him again on this project.”
Delightful puppetry for the many animal characters has been created by Nebraska Repertory Theatre Artistic Director Andy Park and Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film alumnus Jill Hibbard (M.F.A. 2020), who most recently designed the UNL operas “The Gambler’s Son” and “The Tender Land.”
“This is my first time working with [UNL Opera] since ‘Cendrillon’ in 2014,” Tousley said. “We are using puppets (big paper mache heads on poles) and a giant LED screen to serve as the set. I’m illustrating about 100 slides that will help tell the story. It’s been a lot of fun to work with Bill and Jill and the rest of the team.”
Shomos said, “What we’ve ended up with is this remarkable quartet of artistic forces: David’s illustrations, Andy and Jill’s puppety, the cast’s dramatic performance, and Janacek’s glorious music.”
Patrick McNally, a DMA student from Boston, plays Forester.
“Revírník, which translates to Ranger or loosely and commonly to Forester, is a married man who has fallen out of love with his wife,” McNally said. “He sees her as a nag and a bother and seems to have little respect for her. He drinks frequently, but eventually loses joy in that activity as well. He's a man searching for something, but he's not quite sure what. He is a man of high status in a world of poachers, and animals. He finds solace in being in nature and struggles with things he cannot control. He has a violent streak and suffers from some tell-tale signs of depression likely due in part to toxic masculinity.”
On one level, McNally said, it’s an opera full of animals with a simple story that easily appeals to children.
“It's also an opera about deep truths about life, death, and the cycles therein,” he said. “I believe if an audience member chooses to scratch below the surface, it is also a deeply political opera with themes of hierarchy, gender relations, deception, feminism, and oppression, though little of that is presented overtly."
Shomos said it’s the perfect opera for everyone and one of the rare performances in Lincoln this seasons for audiences to enjoy.
“The opera reveals this deeply moving acceptance of the eternal cycles of life: good follows bad, old age is renewed by youth, winter invariably leads to spring,” he said. “In short, to everything there is a season. Janacek’s opera is life-affirming, without ever becoming maudlin, manipulative or over-romanticized.”
Hacker said the cast is excited to perform the opera.
“Our weekly rehearsals continue to build upon one another into something that promises to be truly spectacular,” she said.
Shomos is crossing his fingers for good weather and healthy performers.
“We ask that everyone in the audience wear a mask and respect appropriate physical distancing,” he said.
McNally hopes people will attend.
"I think the work is full of beautiful music, appeals to a broad number of audiences for a myriad of reason, and we could all use a little music and sense of community in the middle of a global pandemic," he said.