Lotte de Beer

Stage director

Das schlaue Füchslein

Oper Leipzig – The Cunning Little Vixen, A story about life, love and death in the forest of forgetfulness

Janacek wrote this piece, in his own words, ‘against the melancholy of old age’. He wrote it at the age of seventy. Age, growing older, the fragility of life and finally death are important themes in this opera.

One of the main characters, the Forester is struggling with getting older. He longs for times long gone when he was still young and in love. Now his marriage is gone sour. So sour even that he compares his wife to his shotgun and likes the latter better. At the beginning of the piece we see him as a struggling, cynical man who teases his friends with their sorrows in love just to forget his own issues. At the end of the piece though, through the death of the vixen he gets a great insight. Suddenly he sees the beauty of the connection between life and death and experiences its beauty.

Where the forester struggles with cynism, the vixen has a very different temperament. She is full of life. In her we see what life can be like if it’s lived to the extreme. We see her fighting revolutions,being brave and scared and we see her fall in love. The love scenes are of an extreme kind of beauty.The Fox and the Vixen have just met when he tells her it’s not just her body he loves but her soul. In the following scene we see that that was not just a cheap seducing line. The two have grown old and he tells her: “You oldie, you are still just as beautiful, still the most beautiful of the forest.” A fairytale relationship.

This piece actually is a fairytale however not one for children. It is a fairytale for grownups, telling the tale of life, love and death in all its different shades. In our 21st century in which cynism is ever present, fairytales get set aside as children’s stories. In this staging I wanted to tell the tale in a way that the people of today would be able to connect with its poetry. Since Janacek’s time, much has changed in how we see the world. We are much less connected with nature for instance. And we have seen many forms of humanized animals in all kinds of genres of art and entertainment. Sometimes in astonishing technically skilled versions. The image of a singer in an animal costume creates a different statement now than it would have then.

The music of this piece has a certain childlike quality to it. It is full of life, almost naively beautiful and sometimes very funny. Yet it is a childishness that you would sooner connect to very old people than to children. It has a melancholy atmosphere and a certain wisdom that is ever present. That is why I wanted the protagonist of the piece to be a very old lady. She gets brought to a home by her husband who cannot take care of her anymore. She has lost most of her memory but compensates this by creating a new reality in her imagination.
At the beginning of the piece we see the world as it is. Old people in a forgetful state. Saying things like ‘Brekete’ and ‘Mummi, mummi what is that? Can I eat that?’ when trying to swallow potting soil. We see a scared violent woman who gets tied to her bed. But then we start seeing it throughher eyes. We see an entire forest growing into the building. A green scarf that one of the old ladies was knitting, suddenly grows into a small landscape. The nurses somtimes look surprisingly much like chickens etc. We see the story of the cunning little vixen through this lady’s imagination.

When her husband, Mr Fox, comes to visit her, he finds her out of bed and without having eaten her supper. When he notices that she doesn’t recognize him anymore, he plays along as if they have never met. He asks her if he can take her on a little walk and walks her to her bed. He finds a way to feed her her dinner by asking if she likes rabbit meat. We see a love that is bigger than age or disease. A love that finds its way through the forest of forgetfulness. And then we see her death. A death that has two sides to it: the realistic one of a hospital bed and respiratory distress and the other, more romantic one: a chase in an open field with a poacher and his gun.

After her death we continue to see the life in the home without her imagination. The creative therapist is depressed because his secret love, nurse Terynka, will marry the undertaker. Mr Forester, the director of the home, checks in the funeral parlor for a last time to pay his respect to mrs Fox. That is where he is suddenly overcome with an insight about the nature of life and death and his role in the circle of life.