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“Vixen Sharp-Ears got up to her tricks in the newspaper. I had no idea that she has a keen reader and admirer in a man with silvery hair and sparkling eyes,” wrote the journalist and keen hunter Rudolf Těsnohlídek after a letter had reached him from the composer Leoš Janáček. “I knew who he was, because he is a musician, and I understand nothing about music. Suddenly I heard that the fox had enchanted him, and that he wanted to rewrite her words and deeds in the language of music, the least earthly of all things human.” Through hearing the hearty laughter of his housekeeper, Janáček had become aware of the entertainment supplement of a newspaper in which Těsnohlídek recounted the adventures of a young vixen – while primarily lampooning his own species. Although Janáček was working on Katya Kabanová at that time, he spontaneously decided to set some passages of the amusing animal fable, lovingly drawn by a Prague illustrator, to music and put it on the opera stage.

The first act of Janáček’s opera tells how a young vixen is captured by a forester and has the opportunity to study not only the life of domesticated animals, but also that of the human beings. In the second act, following her escape, she asserts herself among the animals of the forest with shrewdness and cunning and chooses a partner. After her love affair is blessed by young, the fox dies by the bullet of a poacher in the final act of the opera. But just the following spring, the forester doing his rounds discovers a little fox who “looks just like its mother” – and to the beguiling sounds of Janáček’s music, realises the eternal cycle of nature.

Initial parts of the dazzling score in all conceivable instrumental and vocal colours were already written when Janáček contacted Těsnohlídek about rights. As things turned out, he not only had no objections to a setting of his fable, but even contributed a few lines to the libretto of the opera which was premiered in Brno on 6 November 1924. For their concert performances of Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, Sir Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmoniker have secured the services of of an international cast of world famous singers, some with many year’s association with the orchestra, plus the 2013 Echo award-winning Vocalconsort Berlin. And they all have just one thing in mind: to enchant their audience for the duration of the concert...

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