The Cunning Little Vixen in Münster

The opera I saw at the City Theater in Münster (Westfalen) was The Cunning Little Vixen (in German Das schlaue Füchslein) by the Czech composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928). This is a whimsical opera about an older man who falls in love with a young female — in this case a fox, which makes her even more inaccessible than if she had been human.

Singers and conductor applauding the orchestra

Janáček was nearly 70 when he composed The Cunning Little Vixen. At the time he was in love with a much younger woman, with whom he exchanged letters.

Birds and animals taking their bows

The last scene of the opera, in which the old forester dies peacefully amid the sounds of his beloved forest, was played and sung at the composer’s funeral in 1928.

Opera audience at the Münster City Theater

Unlike Mozart, who started writing operas when he was eleven, Janáček got off to a late start as an opera composer. His first really successful opera, Jenufa, didn’t come out until he was fifty, and he really hit his stride between the ages of sixty-six and seventy-four when he composed The Excursions of Mr. Broucek, Katja Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Macropulous Case and From the House of the Dead. (All of these are still performed, and I have seen all of them repeatedly.)

Program booklet

Janáček made a habit of sitting in the park in his home city of Brno and noting down what people said in everyday conversation, not only the words but also the language rhythms and melodies. He used these notes when he composed his operas, so his music closely follows the rhythms of the Czech language. For this reason, his operas are often performed in the original Czech, even in places like Frankfurt where hardly anyone in the cast or audience speaks or understands this language.

In Münster, however, The Cunning Little Vixen was sung in German.

Musicians in the orchestra pit

While he was composing The Cunning Little Vixen, Janáček not only listened to people speaking Czech, but also went out to the woods and noted down various sounds that he heard, in musical notation, so in this opera the instruments in the orchestra often imitate woodsy and animal sounds.

My photos in this post are from 2009. I revised the text in 2018.

See more posts on Münster, Germany.
See also: Seventy-one opera houses in Germany.

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