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The Cunning Little Vixen
Janáček adapted Rudolf Těsnohlídek’s popular serial into the form of an opera libretto, which he then filled with beautiful musical content, bringing together the worlds of nature and of human fates. Janáček’s musical world is so evocative that even without the set and costumes, it takes you directly into forests.
The Cunning Little Vixen, concert performance of the opera
Elena Tsallagova soprano
Kateřina Kněžíková soprano
Jarmila Balážová mezzo-soprano
Jan Martiník bass
Other singers TBA
Prague Philharmonic Choir
Lukáš Vasilek choirmaster
Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir
Jiří Chvála choirmaster
John Eliot Gardiner conductor
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“Once I was reading – there happened to be a picture of Bystrouška (the vixen Little Sharp Ears) walking hand in hand with Zlatohřbítek (Gold-Spur) and carrying a flower. The way they were strutting about seemed terribly funny to me. I didn’t think anyone could hear me laughing out loud. The lady of the house was not at home just then and the gentleman was in his study. But suddenly he appeared at the kitchen door: ‘If you please, woman, what are you laughing at?’ ‘Well, it’s the Vixen here, sir.’ ‘What Vixen?’ ‘You don’t read it? It’s a reporter from [the Brno newspaper] Lidové noviny, Mr. Těsnohlídek, who wrote it.’ I handed him the newspaper and he looked at the picture, read a bit, started smiling and I said to him: ‘Sir, you know quite well how animals are always talking to each other, how you’re always notating birdsong – Lord, what an opera that would make!’ And he said nothing. He just started watching for each continuation of the Vixen’s story.”
Thus began the story of one of the world’s most famous twentieth century operas, as described by the Janáček family’s housekeeper Marie Stejskalová in 1920. Janáček did not begin work on the opera until two years later, as he wrote to his friend Kamila Stösslová: “I’m now working on the girls’ novel ‘Liška Bystrouška’. Now I have no time to think about myself. There has never been a year when I worked as hard mentally as this year.” Janáček had to adapt Rudolf Těsnohlídek’s popular serial with illustrations by Stanislav Lolek into the form of an opera libretto, which he then filled with beautiful musical content, bringing together the worlds of nature and of human fates. Janáček’s musical world is so evocative that even without the set and costumes, it takes you into forests, the Beskid Mountains countryside, or wherever else you would want to experience one of the loveliest stories about life that has ever been made into an opera.
Kateřina Kněžíková, born 1982 in Bohumín, graduated from Prague Conservatory in 2007 and in 2010 she completed her university degree at Music and Dance Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague as a student of Jiřina Přívratská. She has been the prize-winner of numerous competitions, for example Antonín Dvořák’s International Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary.
In 2005, Kateřina Kněžíková made her debut in the National Theatre in Prague in the role of Zerlina and she has been a permanent cast member thereof since 2006. This is where her operatic engagements over recent years include roles such as Susanna (Le nozze di Figaro), Serpetta (La Finta giardiniera), Servilia (La Clemenza di Tito), Blonde (Entführung aus dem Serail), Despina (Cosí fan tutte), Ilja (Idomeneo), Almirena (Rinaldo), Adina (Elisir d’amore), Barče (Hubička), Terinka (Jakobín), Nannetta (Falstaff), Aristea (L’Olimpiade) and many others.
She made her guest appearance in F. X. Šalda Theatre Liberec, J. K. Tyl Theatre in Pilsen, National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, Theatre de Caen, Opéra Royal de Versailles, Theatre Royal de La Monnaie in Brussels and Opéra de Dijon.
She has been performing in productions of various directors - D. Beneš, Karl-Ernst and Ursel Herrmann, J. Heřman, L. Keprtová, L. Moaty, J. Nekvasil, V. Věžník etc.
Her professional concert and operatic engagements have involved work with conductors such as S. Baudo, J. Bělohlávek, A. Fisch, J. Gaffigan, M. Honeck, H. M. Förster, J. Hrůša, R. Jindra, V. Luks, E. Mazzola, J. Nelson, T. Netopil and outstanding orchestras including BBC Symphony orchestra, Camerata Salzburg, Collegium 1704, Czech Philharmonic, Hessischer Rundfunk Frankfurt am Main, PKF - Prague Philharmonia, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra and many others.
She regularly makes her appearance at prestigious international festivals in the Czech Republic and abroad (Dvořákova Praha International Music Festival, International Music Festival Janáček Máj, Prague Spring International Music Festival, International Opera Festival Smetana’s Litomyšl, St. Venceslav Music Festival, Strings of Autumn, Festival de La Chaise-Dieu, Festival Rencontres Musicales de Vétzelay, Festival Baroque de Pontoise, Music Bridge Prague – Dresden, Uckermärkische Musikwochen, Tage Alte Musik Regensburg etc.).
She made recordings for Czech Radio, television channel MEZZO and Belgian radio station RTFB International. She recorded Bartered Bride by Bedřich Smetana for HARMONIA MUNDI and her recording of Dove é amore é gelosia produced for OPUS ARTE DVD was awarded “Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik“.
Young czech Bass Jan Martiník was born in 1983 in Ostrava where he studied on Janáček Conservatory and on the University of Ostrava with Eliška Pappová. 2003 he won the International Singing Competition Antonín Dvořák in Karlovy Vary in the category Junior and was also rewarded with the second prize in the category "Lied". Jan Martiník is laureate of the International Competition Jelena Obraztsova, where he won the special prize for the best Tchajkovsky romance. 2007 he was finalist in Placido Domingo´s Competition "Operalia" and in 2009 in Cardiff Singer of the World, where he won the category "Song".
While studying at the university he appeared in roles at the NDM Ostrava, including Pistola (Falstaff), Leporello (Don Giovanni) and Truffaldino (Ariadne auf Naxos). At the National Theatre Prague he sung roles including Masetto (Don Giovanni), Larkens and José Castro (La fanciulla del West), Leporello (Don Giovanni) in the new production in Estates theatre.
From 2008 to 2011 Jan Martiník was a member of Komische Oper Berlin, where he sung roles including Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Colline (La bohème), Surin (Pique Dame) and Nachtwächter (Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg). In Volksoper Vienna he sung Betto (Gianni Schicchi), 1.Nazarener (Salome) as well as Zuniga in Carmen. Since 2012/13 Jan Martiník is a member of Staatsoper Unter den Linden, Berlin, where he performes roles including Colline (La Bohéme), Sarastro (Die Zauberflöte), Eremit (Der Freischütz), as well as Father Trulove (The Rake´s Progress).
In concerts the young Bass was working with well known orchestras such as Czech Philharmonic, Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, Staatskapelle Dresden, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Brimingham Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, as well as the King´s Consort and the Collegium 1704. Amongst other pieces of the concert repertoire he has performed Jesus in St. Matthews Passion, as well as the Aria Part, the Bass Parts in Mozart, Dvořák and Verdiʼs Requiem, Dvořák Te Deum, Beethovens 9. Symphony and Haydns Schöpfung. Jan Martiník is already known for his sincere interpretations of Schubertʼs Winterreise and Dvořák Biblical Songs.
The beauty of his voice matches with a splendid technique and a comical talent, which makes him one of the leading singers of the young generation.
The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC) is a leading European vocal ensemble, and as one of the Czech Republic’s foremost artistic institutions operates under the trusteeship of the Czech Ministry of Culture. In the course of the choir’s long history since its foundation in 1935, it has been directed by a succession of some of the most distinguished Czech choirmasters (including among others Jan Kühn, Josef Veselka and Pavel Kühn). Since 2007 its principal choirmaster has been Lukáš Vasilek.
The PPC’s repertoire is centered primarily around oratorio and cantata works. In their presentation, the choir has worked with eminent international orchestras (e.g., Czech Philharmonic, the Berliner Philharmoniker, Wiener Symphoniker, among others), and conductors (including Daniel Barenboim, Jakub Hrůša, Tomáš Netopil, Zubin Mehta or Sir Simon Rattle). Beyond its standard choral repertoire, the PPC is likewise active in the domain of opera, working regularly with the National Theater in Prague, and since 2010 holding the status of choir in residence at the opera festival of Bregenz, Austria.
Apart from these commitments, the PPC engages in a number of its own projects. Since 2011 it has organized its own choral concert series in Prague, with a program focused notably on presentations of less well known choral works, either a cappella or with chamber-scale instrumental accompaniment. The choir regards as an inseparable part of its activity educational endeavours targeting the young generations. In this context, it has been involved in organizing a Choral Academy for students of singing, a project aimed at enabling young artists to acquire practical skills through work with a professional vocal ensemble.
The PPCʼs many commitments in the 2019/2020 season include among others concert appearances at the Dvořák Prague and Prague Spring festivals, a tour in Hong Kong, a performance in Moscowʼs new concert hall, Zaryadye, as well as debut appearances at the Salzburg Easter Festival, with Staatskapelle Dresden and Christian Thielemann, or at the Elbphilharmonie hall, with the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Jakub Hrůša, and with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra under the baton of Alan Gilbert. The PPC will bring its 85th season to a close by appearances at several festivals, including Smetana Litomyšl, St. Gallen Festival in Switzerland, and the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria. The Prague Philharmonic Choir is the recipient of the 2018 Classic Prague Award for Best Vocal Concert, and Czech Televisionʼs Classical Music of the Year Award.
Lukáš Vasilek, principal conductor of the Prague Philharmonic Choir, studied conducting at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, and musicology at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. For eleven seasons from 1998 he was conductor of the Foerster Female Chamber Choir, and between 2005 and 2007 was also second choirmaster of the Prague National Theatreʼs opera chorus. He took up his post at the helm of the Prague Philharmonic Choir in 2007. Apart from preparing and conducting the choirʼs a cappella concert productions, he has been building up the Prague Philharmonic Choirʼs repertoire set for participation in large-scale cantata, oratorio and opera projects, working with leading international conductors (such as Barenboim, Bělohlávek, Eschenbach, Honeck, Hrůša, Jordan, Luisi, Mehta, Noseda and Rattle) and orchestras (including the Berliner Philharmoniker, Czech Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, St Petersburg Philharmonic, Staatskapelle Dresden or Wiener Symphoniker). Since 2010, the Prague Philharmonic Choir under Vasilekʼs direction has guest appeared regularly at the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.
Lukáš Vasilek has made numerous recordings with the Prague Philharmonic Choir for various major labels, including Decca Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, Sony Classical and Supraphon. In 2016, the last mentioned of these issued an album of Bohuslav Martinů’s cantatas which was nominated for the BBC Music Magazine’s annual award in the choral category, among other plaudits.
The Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir was founded in 1932 by Jan Kühn, a distinguished singer, director and choirmaster. Originally founded for the needs of the Czech Radio in Prague, the choir gained notoriety and in 1952 became part of the Czech Philharmonic, and remained so for forty years.
The choir is known not only in Europe, but on all five continents. Over the course of its existence it has given thousands of talented children a love of music and art. The choir is regularly invited to major music festivals and on concert tours. In addition to giving independent performances, it also collaborates with leading orchestras and operas. The Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir has worked with the National Theatre in Prague since 1936, where children from the choir take roles in operas.
Among the choir’s greatest achievements are appearances at La Scala in Milan, Carnegie Hall in New York, the Tchaikovsky Hall of the Moscow Conservatoire, the Bregenzer Festspiele and elsewhere. The Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir has also emerged victorious in a number of international choir competitions (Paris, Princeton, Wuppertal, Tolosa, Arezzo). During its existence, the choir has recorded over 50 CDs of both Czech and international music.
Jiří Chvála graduated from HAMU in Prague with a degree in conducting, and went on to become choirmaster with the Czech Choir (later the Prague Philharmonic Choir) and the Czech Philharmonic Children’s Choir, which he has headed since 1967. He thus directly continued the exceptional legacy of the choir’s founder, Jan Kühn, who was also his professor at the music faculty. He managed the choir’s cooperation with distinguished Czech and foreign conductors, directors, chamber groups and orchestral bodies. He has undertaken a number of tours with the choir, including to prestigious festivals at home and abroad on almost every continent, and made dozens of recordings. He has led the choir to victory in a number of international competitions. Since 1958 Jiří Chvála has taught in the conducting department of the Music Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, in 1986 being appointed professor. Over the course of his long artistic and teaching career he has won a large number of awards, including the František Lýsek Award, the Bedřich Smetana Award, an honorary award (II degree) from the Czech Education Ministry, and an award from the Czech Senate and the Czech Ministry of Culture.