The Opera Theatre of Yale College will break the boundary between animals and humans this week.
In collaboration with A Different Drum Dance Company, the Opera Theatre will perform Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s opera “The Cunning Little Vixen,” beginning Thursday. The opera tells the life story of the female fox Vixen and her adventures with other animals and humans she encounters along the way. Emma Clarkson ’17, the show’s producer and managing director of the OTYC, said that it is the first time the OTYC has operated on such a large scale, as the piece calls for 24 orchestra members and roughly 20 singers.
“It is a part animal fable, part folk tale, part coming-of-age story and part circle-of-life story,” said Lynda Paul GRAD ’12 DRA ’17, the show’s stage director. “We watch the human world and the animal world interacting and how they respond to each other. We also see find [Vixen] way in the world, as well as the clash between nature and civilization.”
Besides logistical challenges such as setting up rehearsal times and practicing the music, Paul said the opera faced more abstract challenges as well. She noted the fact that several of the characters are animals, adding to the opera’s beauty and humor.
But besides animal characters like the Vixen, there are other human roles like the Forester and the poacher, Harasta, who depict human perspectives on nature. These attitudes are reflected in their names: The Forester is the caretaker of nature while the poacher resembles nature’s destructive force.
Ariadne Lih ’17, who plays the Vixen, said she enjoys wrestling with the show’s dual nature in terms of its different interactions and interpretations.
“I have to strike a balance between being animalistic and humanistic aspect of the fox. I have to use of body language to express the undauntedness of Vixen,” Lih said. “The music of the opera is so good that it tells me what to do and I have a ton of fun onstage.”
The opera will be performed in English and is supposed to be approachable and fun for everyone, Lih said. While the opera is centered around an animal, she noted, the resistance of the Vixen and her continuous back-and-forth struggle against authority is very human.
Still, the show’s characters, cast and story are not its only highlights. André Redwood GRD ’12 said the show’s light and projection techniques have been tailored so that audience members can more easily enter the characters’ world.
“As a stage director, I have to make sure the story is told clearly through the pictures on stage and through the characters’ movement and actions through which we see and understand,” Paul said. “The spectacular visual dimension, elaborate design and projections are a very creative approach to costume and set and will be the highlights of the opera.”
Eli Brown ’17, the production’s music director and artistic director of the OTYC, highlighted the opera music’s special features. The music is notable for its polyrhythm, he said, and is known for its infusion of southeast Czech Moravian modal folk song. He added that it closely follows the concept of speech melody — music specifically composed based on the contour of human speech. The music shows a wide variety of and shift in melodic style, he said, and there are lyrical moments followed by more angular and modernist qualities such as atonality.
“Unlike operas about kings and queens, who are much more recognizable as humans in society, the fable-like nature of this opera adds to the difficulty of creating images that the viewers will connect to,” Redwood said. “In addition, the episodic nature of the opera makes connecting the thread between episodes more difficult to be realized than in an opera with a more continuous story.”
The show will run through Saturday in Harkness Auditorium at the Yale School of Medicine building.
Correction, Feb. 22: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the Opera Theatre of Yale College as the Yale Opera Theater on later references. Additionally, it misstated Lynda Paul’s first Yale degree — it is from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, not the School of Music. Finally, Emma Clarkson was incorrectly listed as the Managing Director of the production when in fact she is the Managing Director of OTYC.
Correction, Feb. 24: An earlier version of this article misstated the date on which the show debuts. It starts Thursday, not Friday. In addition, the article misquoted André Redwood. The quote has been amended.