Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) [pictured]

Libretto by Leoš Janáček, on a story by Rudolf Těsnohlídek

Conductor, Martyn Brabbins

Director, Jamie Manton

Opens Friday 18 February (6 performances)

February 2022 sees the English National Opera (the ENO) present an exciting new production of one of Janáček’s most enduring operas, The Cunning Little Vixen, for the first time since 2001.

Composed towards the end of his life, the opera incorporates distinctive Moravian folk songs and rhythms, key parts of Janáček’s oeuvre.

With a libretto from a serialised novella published in Czech newspaper Lidové noviny, the opera tells the story of a young vixen – Sharp Ears – captured by a Forester.

On the surface, a comic story about a clever fox, the opera also offers deeper philosophical reflections and tragedy, possibly influenced by Janáček’s unrequited love for a younger married woman: inspiring his characterisation of the Vixen.

Then Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, the ENO gave the first English language performance of The Cunning Little Vixen in 1961. Since then the company has staged it only five times: 1998, 1991, 1995, 1996 and most recently, 2001.

This new production is contemporarily staged, contrasting the ageing human world with the regenerating animal kingdom.

This is director Jamie Manton’s first main stage production for the ENO, having previously directed The Day After at Lilian Baylis House in 2017 and ‘exhilarating experience’ (The Mail on Sunday) Paul Bunyan at Wilton’s Music Hall and Alexandra Palace Theatre in 2018 and 2019.

Director Jamie Manton says: ‘I am delighted to be back at the ENO, directing this sensational opera alongside the most exciting collective of talent. This piece couldn’t be more timely, capturing what it means to feel alive and the importance of our role within life’s vibrant community.’

Joining Jamie is Tony Award-nominated designer Tom Scutt who has worked extensively across theatre, opera, dance and live music events. ‘One of British theatre’s most adventurous designers’ (Evening Standard), Tom has created designs for theatre including Constellations at the Royal Court Theatre, A Very Expensive Poison at The Old Vic and Cabaret at the Playhouse Theatre.

ENO Music Director Martyn Brabbins conducts the astonishing force of the ENO Orchestra for his first Janáček opera with the ENO. Joining them is the ENO Chorus, ‘one of ENO’s priceless assets’ (Daily Telegraph), imbuing the score with their remarkable power. ENO Mackerras Fellow Olivia Clarke conducts the relaxed performance on Saturday 26 February.

Martyn Brabbins Music Director of the ENO and Conductor says: ‘In his eighth decade Leoš Janáček harnessed all the experience of a richly varied life, inspired by love and nature, created the most magical, kaleidoscopic operatic adventure. The music seethes with energetic invention, with emotion and beauty.  All of us involved have fallen under the spell of this magical score. I hope you can join us and be bewitched.’

‘One of Britain’s finest sopranos’ (the Independent), Sally Matthews makes a much anticipated return to the ENO in the titular role of the Vixen, her first role at the London Coliseum since David McVicar’s La clemenza di Tito in 2005. Sally has enjoyed an illustrious international career ever since her Kathleen Ferrier award win in 1999, going on to make her Royal Opera House debut in 2001, Salzburg Festival debut in 2016, Metropolitan Opera debut in 2017, and regular performances at The Proms.

Making her ENO debut this season as the Fox is South African soprano Pumeza Matshikiza. Singing the first of two roles this season (the second being Moira in The Handmaid’s Tale in April), Pumeza brings her ‘opulent, glowing’ (the Guardian) voice to the role. As well as an established career in opera houses across Europe, Pumeza has performed at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, The Proms and is a Decca recording artist.

The Forester is sung by American baritone Lester Lynch, returning to the ENO following 2018’s ‘superb’ (Daily Telegraph) Enrico Ashton in Lucia di Lammermoor. Known for his charismatic performances and commanding voice, he boasts an established international career at leading opera houses and on the concert platform. The Forester’s Wife and the Owl are sung by British mezzo-soprano and former ENO Harewood Artist Madeleine Shaw. Madeline previously performed these roles at the Royal Opera House under the baton of Sir Charles Mackerras in 2010. Madeleine will sing Rita in The Handmaid’s Tale at the ENO this April.

Renowned British tenor Alan Oke sings the first of two roles this season, as both the Schoolmaster and the Mosquito. Following a successful career as a baritone, he made his debut as a tenor in 1992. Possessing an enviable reputation in 20th century repertoire, he made a notable role debut as Peter Grimes on Aldeburgh Beach in 2013. Alan returns to the ENO following a ‘star turn’ as John Styx in 2019’s Orpheus in the Underworld.

Joining him is renowned British bass Clive Bayley as both the Priest and the Badger. Known for a hugely diverse repertoire, Clive is an ENO audience favourite, previously appearing in 2020’s The Marriage of Figaro, following a ‘strong’ (Daily Telegraph) performance in 2019’s Orphée. Clive performs with world-famous opera institutions including the Metropolitan Opera, Teatro Real Madrid and San Francisco Opera.

British-bass baritone Ossian Huskinson sings the role of Harašta the Poacher, having recently made his ENO debut as ‘a fine Bob Becket’ (Opera Today) in 2021’s HMS Pinafore. ‘[R]ising young tenor’ (i news) and current ENO Harewood Artist, British singer John Findon sings the roles of the Innkeeper, and the Cock. He last performed with the ENO in 2021’s televised Handel’s Messiah and will sing Luke in The Handmaid’s Tale later this season.

British soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand is the Innkeeper’s Wife and the Chief Hen. Gweneth-Ann previously shared the role of Serena in 2017’s Porgy and Bess, bringing her ‘big-voiced dramatic soprano’ (The Sunday Times) to the London Coliseum stage. Her prestigious career has seen her undertake roles such as Tosca, Ariadne, and Aida at multiple leading opera houses including Opera Holland Park, Theatre Bremen, Finnish National Opera and ENO. She is currently an Associate Artist at Wigmore Hall.

Current ENO Harewood Artist Claire Barnett-Jones joins the cast as the Dog. The British mezzo-soprano was the finalist and winner of the Dame Joan Sutherland Audience Prize in 2021s BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition and recently undertook the role of Rossweisse in the ENO’s The Valkyrie, singing with ‘terrific aplomb and musicality’ (Culture Whisper). Claire made her ENO debut as Eurydice the Myth in 2019’s The Mask of Orpheus.

Singing Pepík and the Woodpecker, Australian soprano and ENO Harewood Artist Alexandra Oomens returns to the London Coliseum after her ‘lovely’ (The Guardian) turn earlier this season as Josephine in Cal McCrystal’s HMS Pinafore. Making her ENO debut, Welsh soprano Ffion Edwards sings both Frantík and the Jay. A graduate of the Royal College of Music, Ffion is a current Young Artist at the National Opera Studio.

They are joined by four adolescent roles, cast via ENO Engage’s (the ENO’s learning and participation department) Opera Squad partner secondary schools and youth programme. Completing the cast are 20 children singing the roles of the Vixen’s fox cubs, and other woodland creatures. All in years 5 and 6 (aged 9-11), the majority have been cast from two local Westminster primary schools, marking the start of their new partnership with ENO Engage. The ENO delivered multiple ‘Intro to Opera’ workshops at these schools, before inviting pupils back to a casting workshop for more in-depth singing and movement work. Each school will be taking part in further activities in February, then will be invited to watch their peers onstage at the London Coliseum. This is one of the first times we have cast children directly from schools and we are pleased to be championing non-traditional casting routes, offering these pupils a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rehearse with professionals, develop creative skills and confidence, and perform on a world-famous stage.

Lucy Carter is the Lighting Designer, and Jenny Ogilvie is the Movement Director. Translation is by Robert T. Jones and Yveta Synek Graff.

The Cunning Little Vixen opens on Friday 18 February 2022 at the London Coliseum for 6 performances: February 18, 22, 24, 26, March 1 at 19.30. February 20 at 15.00.

A relaxed performance, conducted by ENO Mackerras Fellow Olivia Clarke, will be held on Saturday 26 February 2022 at 14.30. This performance is ideal for anyone who benefits from a more relaxed environment, which may include those with dementia, Tourette’s, an autism spectrum condition, sensory and communication impairments and learning disabilities, as well as individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted. Relaxed performances have a laid-back approach to noise and movement in the auditorium and an open-door policy, with dedicated chill out areas front of house for those who need a quiet space.