"extraordinarily unique take on opera"
by Jen Soame for remotegoat on 01/06/17

For some people it’s rap, for others it is panpipes, but for many it is opera that causes their teeth to grind. It is a genre (in fact an artform) that divides audiences and, although its performance formats are constantly evolving, has traditionally been associated with the upper echelons of society. Daisy Evans has driven full force into blowing this stereotype out of the water by delivering opera with a uniqueness that can only be dreamed of.

Czech composer Leoŝ Janáĉek composed The Cunning Little Vixon (English translation) between 1921-23. The story tells of a forester who comes across a vixen in the woods, captures her for his pet and keeps her prisoner at home. She grows to be strong and on fighting her way out, returns to the woods to fall in love and have a baby. A poacher is shooting for a trophy for his marriage to a gypsy girl when he kills the vixon and gifts the fur as a wedding adornment. His friend, the forester, mourns the loss of both the vixon and the gypsy girl who he was infatuated with, and reflects back on the notion of the circle of life when he finds himself in the same woods as he began.

Daisy Evans does not use animals in her interpretation. The vixen is instead a feisty, homeless girl, the forester a lonely purposeless man, and their surroundings a cardboard city in London filled with opportunistic street sleepers and crooked policemen. This modern Vixen confronts the harsh realities of homelessness, sexual abuse, loneliness, integrity and honour and this is done through the power of opera; opera with added spoken word and multiple profanities. The cast have excellent voices and are able to switch effortlessly between aggressive ranting and long
smooth notes in order to tell the story.

This production gets more than top marks for concept and execution. The silent opera part denotes that every audience member wears headphones which ensures that wherever you are in the multiroomed set, you will always hear all of the dialogue and music and are therefore always part of the atmosphere. Singers and musicians playing live are interspersed and layered with a pre-recorded electronic score which pulsates through the performance. The audience is led through various rooms during the show finding places to sit where they can. There is a sense of a real active watching experience and true immersion in the action as the actors move and sit and perform scenes amongst the crowd. The real treat is to take off your headphones for the pure live performance and then alternate between for two unique auditory experiences.

However, the downside that I continue to dwell on is that the story and dialogue play up too much to a young hipster crowd with excessive use of swearing and informal chat. It made it feel less of a bridge between the traditional opera and modern world and more of a kick in the face to it, yet the quality of the singing pays much more respect to the genre than that.

I tend to look out for plays with a social conscience but it surely is a sign of the times when I go to one believing there is no connection and it is in fact a biting commentary on Britain today and the perils ahead for our young people. This opera is in fact known as being one of Janáĉek’s lighter works but Silent Opera have used the grubby Waterloo Vaults to their advantage and increased the real sombre feel of the subject matter and characters involved. Un-ham the narrative and this would be an excellent production; I recommend going regardless for an extraordinarily unique experience.

Footnote: if opera interpretations are your thing, make sure you see a theatre production by South African company Isango Ensemble. Their shows are visually and audially beautiful.

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