Thank you both, very very much. Well, let's just talk about The Cunning Little Vixen really; we have the two of you here. And the first question I was going to ask both of you is: why do grown adults want to sit in a theatre, and watch a bunch of opera singers pretending to be talking animals for two hours? Would either of you like to go first on that one - Olivia perhaps?
Oh gosh! [laughs] So why would they want to do that; well for various reasons. One it's an amazing ecological opera, so that's I think why it's also really important to do it at this moment; also the animals are very human in nature, and the humans are very like animals; so again, Janáček was amazing at understanding how all human beings have animal aspects, and animals have their own characters and nature as well. And what's wonderful is that he sort of understands ecologically how the whole world fits together. It also takes place...it's also very funny, you know, there's a lot of humour; and it's also very sad.
So the story is about being wild I think too. So about the wildness of nature and of life, and how as human beings we cut down and cut back on that. I mean as a whole it works on so many different levels: it works as a children's fairytale in a way, or a children's story; it works as a philosophical tract; it's got amazing music, which I'm sure Justin will talk about. And Janáček’s just extraordinary at being able to sort of find humanity and tragedy in just the way we exist, you know, in existence, human existence.
I think that's certainly something I’ll want to come back to. But first of all, Justin: what would you say to someone who wants to know why they should go and hear an opera about a singing fox?
I think I’d come at it from a slightly different angle. I'd say probably for the same reason that you might want to read a book about a farm being run by a bunch of pigs: I mean, they're not pigs - is the answer. I think that he's using...I think I agree with Olivia absolutely about this animalness of the humans, and the humanity and the animals; but he's using the animal world - but at the same time naturalistically which he does wonderfully in the music, but also metaphorically.
And there's a sense in which there's an animal nature, which is a positive for Janáček - that's the freedom in our nature that's the untrammelled goodness, if you like - or good is wrong, but naturalness. And then there’s everything that society and civilisation has done to us, or the way mankind has evolved in a so-called civilised direction, which I think Janáček is often saying is not a positive.
So it's a very complex weaving, and of course it does work on one level for, you know children and young people, because it's so charming - again, which comes through in the music - but on another level it's a very, very profound exploration of these different facets of existence, which he uses sometimes - our ideas about animals, and also some of his own, clearly his own experiences of observing animals, which he did very carefully; to talk about very deep philosophical questions.
So clearly it’s a work that operates on multiple levels. And one thing that struck me particularly was that I hadn’t realised how recent, how quickly he wrote it after finishing Katya Kabanova. That's an incredibly raw tragedy. Now I was fortunate enough to see Olivia’s production of Katya, which I know she did over a decade ago now I think, for Opera Holland Park in West London. It was an astonishingly raw and piercing evening of emotional drama - one of the most tragic operas in the repertoire. My colleague Michael Tanner said that after he’d seen Olivia’s production he couldn’t actually bear going to see it again. I invited him along one evening and he said no, he didn't think he could put himself through that; it was so immediate, so raw, so wonderful that it wasn't really an experience that he could necessarily put himself through for pleasure, at that time.
And I'm quite interested - I mean, obviously you have a lot of experience with Janáček, I know, Olivia. And do you see any themes between these works? I mean they're clearly - you’ve got two very strong, charismatic female protagonists; but the intense tragedy of something like Katya, the you know, the raw, raw passion of it, compared to this opera - the Vixen - which I think he described is an idyll at one point. How do you sort of move from one to the other; what are the things they have in common?
I think they have a lot in common, like you say very strong female protagonists; the same with Jenufa as well - all of his pieces to be honest, more or less. Apart from House of the Dead, no female characters there! But yes these strong female characters; he really identified also with oppressed characters I think. With characters that couldn't be free, couldn't express themselves.
So with Katya, you know, she's completely oppressed by the society that she's in, and in this loveless marriage, but also the wider society. And again there are always allegories for the bigger picture as well - so you know, it was all about an allegory about freedom, you know, the old system versus the new. And I think it's the same in a way for the Vixen: that she sort of becomes oppressed, doesn't she, by the forester and his wife, and that whole environment. But then she breaks free.
And so it's sort of like the ying and the yang, you know, they're really parallel stories; but they also end in... well, they don't end in a very different way because both die - but the realisation, you know, she does break free, and she has this wildness, and this just absolute relish of life. Which Katya I suppose does also, in her love for Boris, you know, she does explore that and he explores that for her.
So I think [Janáček] is always writing about human fragility, and the tragedy of the underdog, particularly at the time women who couldn't realize themselves and be free, in the same way that men could be, or could try to be.
I think the topic of Janáček and his relationships with women is quite an interesting and quite a live one, I think always whenever this topic comes up. But first of all, I just want to ask Justin as well again, from the musical perspective. I mean, I'm right in thinking you’ve got quite a track record with our old Longborough favourite Wagner and the Ring cycle. That of course moves on a cosmic scale, on a vast scale, spread over four hours at least, per night; four nights of drama. And then I think Janáček himself said he didn't like long operas. He liked his operas to be short. And I was just wondering: do you see any parallels between their two musical worlds, their two approaches to drama? At the same time, they both seem to me to have a great immediacy, a great vitality, and a great ability to turn emotionally on a moment; yet, they're so different in scale and ambition, it would seem. How would you sort of reconcile those?
You're right, I have devoted a huge amount of time and thought over, you know, thirty years to Wagner. It takes a lifetime, you know. And actually I’m a huge fan of Michael Tanner, and have been for thirty years. There is on the face of it so much that...you know, huge differences between their outlooks, and their approaches. But I think there’s this sense that both Janáček and Wagner are always on the side of the transgressor, if you like. And so, you know, Tristan and Isolde are transgressors; Siegmund and Sieglinde are transgressors; they pay the society's price for this. But we see beyond that, and the music tells us at the end of Katya - actually Katya has a pretty stormy ending - a better example is Jenufa. The final moments of Jenufa is the most uplifting music, for me, that anybody ever wrote. So she overcomes, she transcends that tragedy. And the moment when the Vixen dies, which is that the tragic, what you think is going to be the ending, the tragic ending, is also the most beautiful moment and uplifting moment in the orchestra - there’s this sort of postlude to her death scene. But we'll probably come to that, because of course, that isn't the end of the opera.
No absolutely it's not where it ends. And I love what you both said about the idea of him being on the side of the underdog. I think just before [the Vixen] gets shot doesn't she, she’s sort of taunting the poacher, and saying “do you think you could shoot me, just because I'm a Vixen?” And of course he does shoot her, precisely because she is a Vixen, and because that is the way of the world that Janáček is portraying. But nonetheless there's more to it than that.
And just one thing, before we sort of move on from the musical side of things - Justin, I was fascinated to learn that apparently just pretty much while he was preparing the libretto for Vixen he made this extensive study of Debussy’s La Mer. Apparently quite an extensive analysis which he intended for publication, which was not published for years afterwards. And that really fascinated me - because there’s kind of - you think about the rawness, the wildness of the score of Jenufa, or certainly Katya; and there's this kind of radiance, I would say, about the score of the Vixen, this lyricism. Do you find that to be the case? Do you find there’s a particular sound world in this opera?
I think there's a radiance in all of Janáček’s music. I mean in the string quartet - I mean that's a very good word for it. I think there's a quality of transcendence, and radiance that's always there. I think he's an impressionist as well, in the Vixen, perhaps more than in the other ones.
It is interesting that he got so into Debussy, and I think it was the "Jeux de vagues", the second movement, that he made this absolutely technical, very, very erudite analysis, musical analysis of it. And we don't think of him as this sort of level of academic, intellectual musician - we think of him, as he also was, a very, very natural and groundbreaking musician. He would notate speech, and animal sounds, and other sounds, and sounds of nature - and he would hear them and write them down, on paper. And that seems very unlearned in a way; but then when you realise that, and sometimes the way he writes music is very haphazard - as if he didn't really, he couldn't really work out how to put on paper what he had in his head. Sometimes it - I remember Charlie Mackerras saying to me, that it was sometimes almost impossible to untangle what he might have meant, with some of the tempo changes, or whatever it might be; and people certainly at the time thought this was quite outlandish. A little bit like you might think with Charles Ives, you know, people couldn’t believe he really meant it.
But yeah, he knew exactly what he was doing; and you could and people have, of course, gone into great detail about his use of whole tone scales: when does he use them, what do they mean; when does he use tonality, a particular kind of tonality; what notes does he add to the common chords, to make this transcendence, this radiance - he he knew exactly what he was doing.
But on the other hand, I mean, the interpreters have had a real field day with this opera over the years; we've just talked earlier about whether or not these are animals, or these are humans. And it seems you can't almost talk about Janáček and this late flowering of his career without getting tied up with this rather curious relationship he had with this young married woman, younger married woman, Kamila Stösslová, who he seems to have this rather strange fixation with: writing letters to her, pestering her; she was married, he was married as well - both their spouses knew all about this, and I don't think we're particularly happy with it. At the same time, there's no denying that this period of Janáček is an incredible flowering, a sort of flaming up of creativity, towards the end of his career.
And I wanted to ask Olivia: is the Vixen Kamila? Is this his idealisation of a young woman; or is it something slightly more complex, and more universal that? As Justin just said, he spent ages notating animal sounds; I know he kept chickens during the creation of this opera, just so he could refresh his memory about the kind of sounds they made, and the way they responded. So on the one hand we have this sort of possible metaphor here for his own emotional life; and at the same time this immense realism, this startling degree of fascination with the actual sounds and rhythms of natural speech, of natural sounds. As a director, how do you tread that line Olivia?
Well first of all, I think Kamila was definitely his muse. He had a sort of idealised way of looking at her, and it's quite romantic love really. I think the Vixen is her, to some extent. There was a story apparently about how she didn't want to go to school, and her grandfather tied a rope around her neck and actually pulled her all the way to school, and she was crying and screaming, and tried to bite through the rope - and actually ran away, so he's obviously used that story. So I think there is an element of, you know, she's this wild woman, she has gypsy qualities, you know, she's quite dark-haired; and he often thinks of her as a sort of, this wild person. But I also think the Vixen is him too, you know, because he's very - on some level he's in a very sort of bourgeois environment, isn't he - and he's had a very predictable life in lots of ways. Although he's had lots of tragedy as well, with his daughter dying and things like that - but I feel that's what his later flowering and this creativity is really about: him breaking out of all of that, as well.
Which way do you lean as a director, do you go for very naturalistic, animalistic approach to it; or is this about bringing out the humanity in them, are these basically recognisable 1930, 20th century human types that you want to bring out?
I tend to not go for naturalism anyway, and I think in this piece particularly it would be very, very hard - because what are we doing, you know, animals don't speak in the same way. So I think one has to decide you know, I have to decide what it is about or what are the main themes I want to bring out. And I think what he does so brilliantly is he does evoke this beautiful natural world, and he loved his house in Hukvaldy, and being in the forest and walking around there. And before he died he'd invited Kamila there, and they spent days there. It's obviously this ideal place, in a way, of being in nature, and very spiritual as well. I feel he connects to nature in such a visceral, but also very spiritual way - that, for him, that's really important.
And the whole piece is also written as a life-cycle it feels to me; so it is a sort of cycle of nature, going from spring, through summer, winter and back to spring again. There are all these strands of his life, which I feel he's brought together in this piece, and that's why it's so complicated and so complex - but that's also why it works on so many different levels. And how he manages to compress everything into such a short time is always extraordinary, isn't it - how he can really find these moments of transcendence and radiance as you called it, which is I think a great word, and also really punchy and very visceral, and real, and very fast-moving as well.
So I think he just manages to bring it all together. And I suppose my approach is to tell the human story, as well as the nature and ecological story, and I think the two are completely intertwined, as we all are. The way he brings all these natural sounds, and voices of the animals, and just voices of the wood atmosphere, and everything - it's all there isn't it, but it's all vocalized. And he uses children as well, which is amazing, you know, he wants young people - he wants to, in a way I think he's getting so old, he's about to die, he wants that rebirth, that understanding of that cyclical world - which is what nature does, isn't it. And so I guess it helps him with his understanding about his own life, and where he's going.
I think as Justin just said - all those layers happening together, and cramming it together in such a small period of time. It is, no doubt, an intensely complex score on paper; but it never - although it's always teeming with life, and always full of momentum, always full of movement and detail, and never bores you for a second, there's not a wasted note in it - it never feels to me like he's rushing it, he's cramming it in, it never sounds... in a good performance it always sounds to me, I think as he at one point described, as an idyll, almost. Would you agree with that, Justin?
That quality of no wasted notes is quite astonishing with Janáček, in everything. I think he developed that as he went, for example in Jenufa there are lines of text which are repeated. So you could imagine that's in a sense more of a standard, romantic opera - he hadn't quite evolved this concise-ness that he came to yet; but by the time you get to these last operas, there's no repetition, there's nothing spare so to say, and it almost feels symphonic in that way.
The first scene of the first act is very symphonic; actually when he made an orchestral suite out of it he used most of the first act completely unaltered, and it just works as a piece of orchestral music. He has that ability to go from nought to fully-intense emotion in no time at all; and as you say it doesn't feel rushed, he drops you in the middle of it sometimes - and then again in some of the instrumental works, it's the same. You're in the middle of the emotional turmoil. Or in the third act of Katya, from the moment the curtain goes up. He doesn't build with long introductions. It's an interesting parallel - we were talking about Wagner earlier: in the beginning of Valkyrie, what is it - about three minutes of storm music at the beginning - and in Katya, the beginning of act three, the storm is over in a few seconds. That's part of his genius.
And Olivia was just saying about this idea of a seasonal cycle within the work as well. We've talked a lot already about the animals, certainly about the Vixen herself; but in their world also in the opera there is this rather motley collection of human characters: these three rather hopeless old men. A bit harsh perhaps to call the Forester hopeless; but certainly there’s the schoolmaster; there's the poacher Harasta - who has his own designs on a girl in the village, and as we know ends up doing for the Vixen - they're a fairly motley crew, painted in a very sort of characterful way.
And at the same time as the animals, in nature - we’re seeing this whole year's cycle going around, we're seeing the whole process of birth, death and renewal - the humans, on a much slower scale, are slowly aging. There’s a wonderful line that Janáček used about the final act of the opera, where he said “it's spring, but also old age”. He's thinking of the character of the Forester. And I'm just interested - particularly for Olivia here - you have these with two layers: a human world and the animal world. Do you need to make much of a distinction between them on stage; are they doing very different things in the drama?
Yes. I think in a way the animal world is much more universal, and in some ways much freer. I think nature and the animal world are teaching humans. And that's what Janáček I think is saying, is: we can all learn. And the humans do learn, don't they, on some level - little elements, of glimmers of hope - certainly at the end for the Forester. I think the humans are constantly yearning for something; they're yearning for something beyond themselves. But they're so limited in their own scope that they can't reach it, so they yearn for love, or for conquering wildness, or for control - or whatever it is. And those are the sort of yearnings that we all have, and I think that's what Janáček’s saying, at the end of his life, is “what are we yearning for?” and we all have these great yearnings. But also how sad those characters are, you know, they're so sad, in a way, so fragile. And you said hopeless, yes, maybe there's just something quite desperate, you know, but they do learn. At the end we have that sense of the Forester going back into this nature cycle going to sleep, almost connecting with his subconscious - letting go of his control of the gun, the gun slips from his hands - and entering this magical world again, which is what creativity is, what music is, this magic that we that we make when we create live opera - hopefully, that's all we intend to do anyway.
And that's definitely what Janáček’s made with this piece, is this place where we can dream, where we can connect with something which is larger than ourselves, where we can connect with something which is deep inside ourselves that that we're yearning for; and so he shows particularly these men as these yearning sad people, ‘creatures’ you almost want to say, who are really completely restricted by their environment and their ways of thinking, in a way - and then he juxtaposes that with this creative, and free, and full of spirit natural world of the Vixen and everybody connected with that.
Some of them have got parallels too haven’t they - so the priest is also the badger - you almost feel like they have these alter egos that are in one way in the natural world, and a different way the way it's being expressed in the human world. So I think he's just showing us how much we can learn; from our own inner selves, and creativity and spirituality, and music and transcendence - as well as from the natural world. What I think is so wonderful is that he brings these two things together, and in opera that doesn't happen very much. We don't get that very often, of bringing these two worlds really together in such an amazing way.
I think there’s some really interesting stuff there, a couple of things that hadn’t really crystallized [for me] but one of them is exactly what Olivia says - that the humans are all male. There's an innkeeper's wife and there's a Forester’s wife, but they're ciphers, they’re one-liners. They’re male humans, and they are sad people - and I don't know whether they do learn, Olivia, I think it's really only the Forester. I think the Forester goes on this journey, and it's he understands that it's cyclical in the end; he understands that he gets old, and the last animal that he meets is the grandson of the frog from the beginning. And the world renews itself.
The other thing that I realized while you were talking, Richard, is that one of the emotions - they're sad, and they're small, and small-minded often - but one of the emotions that comes up a lot is nostalgia. So in the second act, we first meet these characters sitting at an inn table drinking - and that's almost a symbol for self-medication - then they go off into the forest and they tell their various stories about what it was like when they were young; and how they fell in love then; and now it's all it's all in the past. That sense of nostalgia which of course, you know, then we see the animals - the animals don’t have that nostalgia. They live in the moment. And I think perhaps what the Forester learns - it's almost a Buddhist approach to wisdom - what he learns is that he’s there, as Olivia says he lets the gun go, the sense of the idea that animals are for him to control. And he learns to live in the moment.
I feel slightly bad now about describing those chaps as hopeless. I don't think they are pitiful characters by any means. I think that they're intensely likeable, they're humorously drawn. I don't know if any of you know the old UK TV series Last of the Summer Wine - I always think of these three daft old men, basically making fools of themselves every week because they're just being themselves. And in a sense they're being true to their natures and the limits of their natures; just as the Vixen - you put her in a hen house at the end of act one and she rips the hens to pieces. She slaughters them live on stage, to incredibly gleeful music - because she's a vixen, and that's what she does, and that's who she is, and there's nothing to be ashamed of or sad about here. It's tough on the hens, but that's what happens when you put a fox in a hen house.
It did occur to me that this might be one of the few occasions that we've actually staged The Cunning Little Vixen in a theatre that was once a hen house - or so Martin [Graham] says. In particular I'm aware that this is to be this season’s Young Artist showcase - sort of ‘early career’ singers rather than youth performers as such. I know that Janáček apparently at one point wanted to cast choir boys and 15-year-olds as the chickens, and various other animals, to differentiate the voices. I'm not sure that's ever been done across the board. But working with young performers - I know it's too early to talk about this particular cast - but is there a particular quality that having these youngish, early career performers brings to a piece like this, a piece that is so immediate and so fresh, and yet so incredibly technically challenging?
We used this neologism now, ‘Emerging Artists’, and I think I understand that because in opera terms you can be 30, and still right at the beginning of your career. People's voices sometimes, particularly for the bigger voices, tend to develop a little later - so we don't call them ‘young’ artists, we call them ‘emerging’ artists - and that that makes sense. But you're also right that it is also a production which is designed to involve youth; the youth chorus, and of course Janáček did specify children for some roles. Not always understood is that in fact he was absolutely specific that it should only be animals that were played by children. So even though there are actually two boys, human boys, in the piece, they were designated as chorus roles - so grown-ups, in other words, were to play all of the humans, including the young ones. And that has also to do with how he orchestrated the different scenes. But yes, some of the smaller, some of the insects at the beginning for example, are played by children, children's voices, sung by children's voices. The fox cubs, of course - and we will certainly be doing that at Longborough.
So the senior chorus, I think they’re [ages] 12-18, they were actually going to join our chorus, so going to be singing with the young artists, the emerging artists. All the emerging artists are also part of ensemble, on the whole you know, most of them - so they would be leading the chorus but then the senior youth chorus would be joining; and then the juniors, some of the other smaller parts as well - the grasshopper, and the little frog, and all those those characters - the cricket.
What a glorious, for a young singer - for a child even, I'm not sure how old you’re casting them - to have the role of the little frog at the end; what an incredible opportunity to make an impact. The whole opera almost rests on that funny little ending. I remember reading Janáček’s biographer and occasional translator Max Brod - he was also a great friend of Kafka - couldn't get his head around it at all. He said “you can't end with that”, he said “to end with the frog is impossible - you need a much grander peroration, you need some heroic, inspiring words from the Forester, about the eternity of nature”; and I think Janáček kind of politely, or as politely as he ever was, wrote back to him and said, “look, I think we agree that you don’t understand this, let's not talk about it any further”.
I'm sure Max Brod - we owe him a great debt of gratitude for what he did in saving a lot of Kafka’s works, but I think we can also say that he comprehensively misunderstood The Cunning Little Vixen. When he made his original German translation of the piece, he tried to change, or did change, a huge amount - and he kind of shifted the emphasis of the piece. He rather amusingly expanded the role of the gypsy girl Terinka, who never appears - so she became not only the schoolmaster’s ex but also the priest's ex, and she was kind of implicated as also having been involved with the Forester. And this became the sort of unifying gypsy figure that we never see, and that's all in Max Brod’s imagination. And as you say he didn't understand why the piece ended in the way it did. The Max Brod version of the piece had currency in Germany for a long time after he made it. But fortunately we’ve long since gone back to Janáček’s original conception.
It always reminds me slightly of that habit the blockbuster films have - you have superheroes, then every superhero has to have a mythology now, and prequels to tie the whole story together, so it all adds up some enormously knotted, unnecessarily complex whole - and somewhere along that you lose the simplicity, the originality, and the interest, almost the charm of the original idea.
Thinking more about Janáček - I know you both have experience quite widely in his operatic world; this is an opera inspired by - not a cartoon, exactly - but a sort of picture story, in a serial in a newspaper, in Janáček’s hometown in Moravia. So it's just like a newspaper serial about foxes and their lives, and their adventures. If you look across his other operas, it's an astonishing diversity of sources that seem to inspire him. We've got these great emotional Russian dramas, taken from Russian literature like Katya; equally raw you've got Jenufa, this sort of folk opera that takes on a horribly realistic edge. And then you've Dostoevsky, a prison drama set in a Siberian labor camp under the Csars, in the House of the Dead; and one of my favorites, The Makropulos Case - which is actually science fiction. It's a science fiction story by Karel Čapek about a 300-year-old woman and a chemical formula. And in each of these things Janáček sort of distils something incredibly distinctive out of it; and yet at the same time so incredibly Janáček, so incredibly of himself, so very, very human.
And I just wondered, given your experience with his work, what is the secret of why he’s so distinctive, why he packs such a punch? He never sets down and gives you a big juicy tune, he never has grand choruses, he doesn't really go for massive scenic effects - at least not on a scale that you get in Wagner certainly - and I just wondering, certainly Olivia for instance in your perspective as a director, how is it that in each of these cases he manages to land his effects, and tell his stories of such power, and such freshness?
I think he's because he's so absolutely genuine, you know, and he's so true to himself. And to what he hears and sees; and he doesn't seem to have a filter there, and I think that's what's really exciting about it. He really goes to the dark places, but not in a sort of sentimental or sensationalist way, which sometimes we can get in other operas.
I mean, it's just the most brilliant music theatre basically, isn't it? It's like the music and the drama go absolutely hand in hand. It's like doing a play, but with this added wonderful dimension of music and opera. There are very few of his time for sure, and in anybody I don't think, quite does it in that way. Usually it's sort of couched a little bit, or towards the taste of the time, and he doesn't even care what everybody thinks on some level - I mean, I know he did - but you know when he's writing it I almost feel he’s not worrying about how somebody's going to think about it. He just does it because it's true to him.
And Justin, it's struck me that you listen to a Janáček opera - we think of the other great 20th century opera composers, you think of Berg, you think of Richard Strauss, you think of Britten, for example. Each of them is very much a musicians musician - they sort of have great set pieces. Berg builds these great symphonic structures in his operas; Richard Strauss has these enormous symphonic sort of tapestries of sound, the climaxes; and Britten likewise knows exactly how to use choruses and interludes and so on to create these great orchestral effects. Whereas with Janáček, you don't seem to get that - he just seems to go straight in and tell the story, and he's not indulging, there's nothing that for a conductor to sort of make an effect with. But at the same time - what an effect. Is that fair would you say?
Absolutely, and Olivia I agree with absolutely every word she said and put it beautifully. Perhaps the difference for those three great operatic composers you just mentioned - Berg and Strauss and Britten - you know that they know what they're trying to achieve. Berg for example, very good example with Wozzeck: the same idea, you go to the dark place and you show mankind in its most difficult position and a really unavoidably tragic situation. And at the end of it Berg wants us to feel that catharsis, the tragic catharsis, so he writes this big interlude - we’re being told what to think, and told what to feel, and it's there at that point in the score so that we're allowed to feel what what we want to feel. You never, ever have that feeling with Janáček.
Strauss, of course is famously the most if you like manipulative one - though probably Puccini’s the most manipulative opera composer - but Strauss could do anything, he could describe a teaspoon in music if he wanted to and he knows exactly what [he’s doing], and you know that you're being had, in a way with Strauss, in the most delightful way. And BrittenI think is in some ways an incredibly honest and brave composer, and to have lived the life he did at the time he did, and very deeply moving - but again the structure is thought out, and I think with Janáček somehow there's this unbelievable sense of raw honesty. He's never going to make a compromise. You have this feeling with Janáček - “no I'll find a way to say what I have to say”. He uses leitmotifs, he uses small motifs which you don't need to put a name to - because sometimes it's a motif that embodies a feeling. There's a great Australian writer Michael Ewans who wrote very brilliantly about Janáček’s operas and he said that: any motif in an a Janáček opera would only remain in the tapestry of the score for as long as that feeling, or that situation, remained in the dramatic moment. And the moment that situation changed, that motif was gone and may never appear. And that sense no compromises and no false emotion ever, with Janáček. Just this hugely profound compassion for the business of being alive on this planet.
That brings me to the final thing I was going to ask you about really, just a final point I was going to make. I began by asking you why you would want to watch an opera about a fox; and I was talking to a colleague recently, and they said, “oh I can hardly bear to watch Cunning Little Vixen very often - it's just so sad”. And I thought, when I go and see The Cunning Little Vixen I feel like I’m going to see The Marriage of Figaro; or Gianna Schicci; or one of these absolutely life-enhancing comedies. I know I'm going to come out of it feeling refreshed, feeling as if I'm walking on air. I've been rug out a bit - there’ll have been tears - but at the end you just feel tingling, and alive, as if something good has just happened. Is this a tragedy? Is this a comedy? Do you sort of dread going through the emotional ringer, or do you come out of this opera feeling invigorated?
I think it's both. I think it's both a comedy and a tragedy. But I think the main thing is that it is transcendent; it has this life-enhancing quality to it. This life cycle is just expressed so beautifully, isn't it - so within a life cycle we're all going to suffer, we're all going to go through difficulties, and we're also all going to have joy, and love, and different elements - so he just brings it all in together. And I think that's what's so wonderful about it - it doesn't fall into those categories.
I think it's neither. I think it's a really genuine one-off, a new thing. I was just looking for this wonderful line that the Forester says at the end which really sums up even a lot of what Richard was just saying. He says “when they see the glory of spring coming again people will walk about, around in the forest in silence, bowing their heads because they know that something from on high, something heavenly, some divine bliss has come amongst them”. That's the end of the Forester’s great monologue at the end - and of course Janáček captures it perfectly, and then of course the little frogs come on and we have a little charming comical ending. But that sense of his understanding that you have to find a way to live at one with nature - that's what we're left with.
And in a way I think the frog at the end is exactly that too isn't it - just going “and here's to the future, and this is what happens” there is this cyclical element. So vixen becomes foxcub; and so we carry on, don't we. We just feel that there is this beautiful cyclical element to life. So yes. I think both; neither; whichever way you want to look at it. But it definitely incorporates everything about life, I would say. And that's why it's so magical and so beautiful.
And you just have to hear it. And hopefully we will hear it - and see it - next summer, and enjoy it enormously by the sounds of it. It's been wonderful. Well, thank you both very, very much indeed - absolutely fascinating. And yes, until we meet in Longborough, in the chicken shed - to put the fox amongst the chickens, and see what happens.