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Czech Philharmonic • 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.

Subscription series A | Duration of the programme 2 hours


Leoš Janáček
The Cunning Little Vixen, concert performance of the opera (1h 50')


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

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • The Cunning Little Vixen

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall

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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.


Elena Tsallagova  soprano

Elena Tsallagova

Elena Tsallagova is one of the most sought-after sopranos of her generation, garnering international success for her vocal and dramatic prowess in leading roles from the German, Italian, Czech, Russian and French repertoires. A former member of the Bayerische Staatsoper and Deutsche Oper ensembles, she continues to collaborate with both houses, singing leading roles there.

Elena recently starred in Barry Koskyʼs new production of The Cunning Little Vixen in Munich, as well as Zdenka, in Tobias Kratzer’s new Arabella in Berlin, and as Euxodie, in La Juive at the Grand Théâtre de Genève, for all of which she received universally outstanding reviews. She was invited to sing La Vierge in Honegger’s Jeanne d’Arc at the Salzburg Festival and Ein Deutsches Requiem at the BBC Proms. Upcoming projects include Saint François d’Assise at the Enescu Festival, Der Meistersinger in Berlin, a recording of The Cunning Little Vixen with the Czech Philharmonic and the new production of Die Passagierin in Munich.

Kateřina Kněžíková  soprano

Kateřina Kněžíková

Soprano Kateřina Kněžíková is one of today’s most promising singers. Besides performing opera, she is increasingly devoting herself to the concert repertoire, collaborating with such ensembles as the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Bamberg Symphony, the Camerata Salzburg, or the Orchestra dellʼAccademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Her core repertoire consists of works by Dvořák, Martinů, and Janáček and the song repertoire. She is a laureate of several vocal competitions and was honoured at the 2018 Classic Prague Awards for the best chamber music performance. She earned a Thalia Award for her outstanding performance in Julietta (Martinů) on the stage of the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre.

In 2006 she became a full-time opera ensemble member at the National Theatre, where she is now appearing in many productions including Rusalka, Così fan tutte, Carmen, The Magic Flute, The Bartered Bride, and The Jacobin. Nonetheless, she sees one of her greatest successes as having been the title role in Káťa Kabanová at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival in 2021. 

Jarmila Balážová  mezzo-soprano

Jan Martiník  bass

Jan Martiník

Vocal beauty combined with brilliant technique and comic talent have made Jan Martiník, a graduate of the Janáček Conservatoire and of the University of Ostrava, into one of the leading singers of the younger generation. Despite having just recently celebrated his 30th birthday, he already has several competition successes to his credit (victories at the Antonín Dvořák International Competition in Karlovy Vary and at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, laureate of the Yelena Obraztsova International Singing Competition in Moscow, finalist at Placido Domingo’s singing competition Operalia). He has made guest appearances at Prague’s National Theatre and has held engagements first at the National Moravian-Silesian Theatre in Ostrava, then at Berlin’s Komische Oper and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden.

He has appeared in concert with such famed orchestras as the Czech Philharmonic (for example in the Glagolitic Mass on a European tour and on a floating stage on the Vltava), the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Staatskapelle Dresden, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the King’s Consort, and Collegium 1704. He is especially acclaimed in the art song repertoire for the purity of his interpretations of Schubert’s Winterreise and of Dvořák’s Biblical Songs.

Boris Prýgl  bass

Boris Prýgl

Bass-baritone Boris Prýgl ranks among the most talented Czech young singers. He successfully went through the Young Artists program of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, where he has assumed the roles of Morales in Carmen, Ping in Turandot, the prince Ottokar in Der Freischütz, the Hunter in Rusalka, etc. His artistic commitments in the 2021/2022 season include the roles of Guglielmo in Così fan tutte at the National Theatre in Prague and Don Giovanni at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava, a concert with Pretty Yende at the Smetana Hall in Prague, Dvořák's Rusalka (Gamekeeper) with the Czech Philharmonic under the baton of Semyon Bychkov, an advent recital in Prague, and others.

Boris Prýgl is a laureate of several singing competitions and the absolute winner of the 2015 Antonín Dvořák Singing Competition in Karlovy Vary. In July 2017, he was a finalist of Belvedere and Plácido Domingo’s Operalia. In September 2019, he was granted the award of the then Director of the Vienna State Opera Dominique Meyer at the Stella Maris Vocal Competition. He graduated from the Academy of Music in Bratislava and gained his first stage experience at the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.

Prague Philharmonic Choir  

The Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC), founded in 1935 by the choirmaster Jan Kühn, is the oldest professional mixed choir in the Czech Republic. Their current choirmaster and artistic director is Lukáš Vasilek, and the second choirmaster is Lukáš Kozubík.

The choir has earned the highest acclaim in the oratorio and cantata repertoire, performing with the world’s most famous orchestras. In this country, they collaborate regularly with the Czech Philharmonic and the Prague Philharmonia. They also perform opera as the choir-in-residence of the opera festival in Bregenz, Austria.

This season, they will appear at four choral concerts of their own, with programmes focusing mainly on difficult, lesser-known works of the choral repertoire. Again this year they will be devoting themselves to educational projects: for voice students, they are organising the Academy of Choral Singing, and for young children there is a cycle of educational concerts.

The choir has been honoured with the 2018 Classic Prague Award and the 2022 Antonín Dvořák Prize.

Lukáš Vasilek  choirmaster

Lukáš Vasilek

Lukáš Vasilek studied conducting and musicology. Since 2007, he has been the chief choirmaster of the Prague Philharmonic Choir (PPC). Most of his artistic work with the choir consists of rehearsing and performing the a cappella repertoire and preparing the choir to perform in large-scale cantatas, oratorios, and operatic projects, during which he collaborates with world-famous conductors and orchestras (such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Czech Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, and the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic).

Besides leading the PPC, he also engages in other artistic activities, especially in collaboration with the vocal ensemble Martinů Voices, which he founded in 2010. As a conductor or choirmaster, his name appears on a large number of recordings that the PPC have made for important international labels (Decca Classics, Supraphon); in recent years, he has been devoting himself systematically to the recording of Bohuslav Martinů’s choral music. His recordings have received extraordinary acclaim abroad and have earned honours including awards from the prestigious journals Gramophone, BBC Music Magazine, and Diapason.

Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir  choir

Today, the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir (founded in 1932) is one of the most important Czech artistic ensembles, renowned not just in Europe, but now on five continents. Over the years, the choir has trained thousands of talented children and taught them love for music and the arts. In terms of its traditions and the breadth of its artistic scope, it is a unique artistic institution of its kind not only in the Czech Republic, but also throughout Europe. The choir’s reputation of exceptional artistry is documented by numerous awards and official honours. It is regularly invited to major music festivals and concert tours, it collaborates with top orchestras and operatic stages, and it has realised more than 50 recordings of Czech and foreign music.

The Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir has its own special sound that captivates listeners on first hearing because of the naturalness, purity, and refinement of the children’s voices. Since the choir’s founding, these characteristics have been an inspiration for many outstanding Czech composers to create works especially for the Prague Philharmonic Children’s Choir.

Jiří Chvála has been at the choir’s helm since 1967, and the choirmaster of the Concert Department is Petr Louženský.

Jiří Chvála  choirmaster

Jiří Chvála

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.

John Eliot Gardiner  conductor

John Eliot Gardiner

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, an Artistic Director of his Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, has been marked out as a central figure in the early music revival and a pioneer of historically informed performance. As a regular guest of the worldʼs leading symphony orchestras, such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, Gardiner conducts repertoire from the 17th to the 20th century.

The extent of Gardinerʼs repertoire is illustrated in the extensive catalogue of award winning recordings with his own ensembles and leading orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic or LSO on major labels, as wide-ranging as Mozart, Schumann, Berlioz, Elgar and Kurt Weill, in addition to works by Renaissance and Baroque composers. His many recording accolades include two GRAMMY awards, Diapason dʼor and he has received more Gramophone Awards than any other living artist.

Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestras perform regularly at the worldʼs major venues and festivals, including Salzburg, Berlin and Lucerne festivals, the Lincoln Center, and the Royal Albert Hall; in 2021, Gardiner made his 60th appearance at the BBC Proms conducting works by Handel and Bach. In 2017, they celebrated the 450th anniversary of the birth of Monteverdi, for which they were awarded the RPS Music Award and Gardiner named Conductor of the Year at the Opernwelt Awards.

Gardiner has conducted opera productions at the Wiener Staatsoper, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Opéra national de Paris, Royal Opera House or Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. From 1983 to 1988 he was artistic director of Opéra de Lyon, where he founded its new orchestra.

Gardinerʼs book, Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach led to the Prix des Muses award (Singer-Polignac). From 2014 to 2017 he was the first ever President of the BachArchiv Leipzig. 

Among numerous awards in recognition of his work, Sir John Eliot Gardiner holds honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Music, New England Conservatory of Music, the universities of Lyon, Cremona, St Andrews and King’s College, Cambridge where he himself studied and is now an Honorary Fellow; he is also an Honorary Fellow of Kingʼs College, London and the British Academy, and an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, who awarded him their prestigious Bach Prize in 2008. Gardiner was made Chevalier de la Légion dʼhonneur in 2011 and was given the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2005. In the UK, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1990 and awarded a knighthood for his services to music in the 1998 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.


Leoš Janáček
The Cunning Little Vixen

When Leoš Janáček began composing his sixth opera The Cunning Little Vixen (Příhody Lišky Bystroušky), he was 67 years old. He was no longer seen as a provincial folklorist from Brno, as had still been the case just five years earlier. In 1916, Janáček’s standing was changed overnight by the Prague premiere of Jenůfa (Její pastorkyňa); suddenly he had become a leading representative of modern music drama alongside composers a generation younger. Premieres of his works were eagerly anticipated, and Janáček did not cease to surprise audiences with the originality of his musical language, his choices of unusual subject matter, and his genius for dramatic adaptation.

Several coincidences preceded the composing of The Cunning Little Vixen. Graphic prints had begun to appear in newspapers just a few months earlier. The editorial staff of one Brno newspaper lacked enough images submitted for publishing, so the editor-in-chief Jaromír John paid a visit to Stanislav Lolek’s Prague studio in his search for material. Lolek himself did not offer his illustrations of tales about a clever vixen to the newspaper, and when the editor John became aware of them by chance, Lolek had to be persuaded to allow their publication. Rudolf Těsnohlídek then wrote a literary companion to the series of illustrations at the urging of the newspaper publisher. The story came to Janáček’s attention thanks to the hearty laughter of his housekeeper when she was thumbing through the newspaper.

Janáček’s creative spirit had been awakened, and in May 1921, readers of the newspaper Lidové noviny learned that The Cunning Little Vixen would be dressed up in a musical setting. By that time, Janáček was already working with Těsnohlídek’s prose, which had been published in book form. He admitted later that the book made him angry, so he immediately tossed out the first chapter and went to listen to the distinctive language of woodsmen instead. It certainly is no coincidence that at that time he was jotting down the songs of birds and even frogs and writing commentary about them in essays. He took his scientific approach so far as to ask a forester in Hukvaldy to arrange an expedition for him to see a fox’s den. Janáček went there wearing his favourite white suit.

Janáček took the original literary material and adapted his own libretto. He gave Těsnohlídek’s characters greater depth, and he shifted the dramatic emphasis from the stage to the character’s internal reflections on their emotions. He gave precedence to the scenes from the original story where the animal and human worlds overlap. Through their juxtaposition, he created an allegory contrasting the unity and peace of the natural world with the banality and mediocrity of human life. By allowing Sharp-Ears the Vixen to die, he made it possible to hear his opera as a philosophical reflection on life and an expression of his pantheistic faith.

The Cunning Little Vixen is Janáček’s most symphonic opera. The animal world enriched his musical language and enabled him to conceive whole scenes in terms of ballet and pantomime. Sometimes the pithy rhythmic units imitate animal sounds, and through their onomatopoetic potential, they shift the dramatic potential to the orchestra, as is most apparent in the ballet scenes and interludes. A number of small roles for forest creatures are composed for children’s voices. Like in his previous opera Kaťa Kabanová, nature again speaks through wordless choral singing.

The score of The Cunning Little Vixen is sometimes described as impressionistic. When Janáček was composing the opera, he is known to have been captivated by the music of Claude Debussy. He had attended a performance of the opera Pelléas et Mélisande, and he subjected Debussy’s symphonic sketches La mer to detailed analysis. The use of the whole-tone scale, so typical of Debussy’s musical language, seems in Janáček’s case to be a consequence of the inspiration of Moravian folk music with its plentiful use of the Lydian mode.

In his correspondence, Janáček called The Cunning Little Vixen a girls’ novel. In it, at the threshold of the age of seventy, he created one of his most youthful works. In his own words, he composed it “for the joys and sorrows of advanced years.” Milan Kundera admired the opera for its “elegiac nostaglia”, which it found “in the chatter of two old gentlemen in a pub; in the death of a poor animal; in the unrequited love of a schoolteacher kneeling before a sunflower.” The work’s message is a humble bowing down of a man with a wealth of life experience before the all-embracing order of nature, necessary components of which are birth, death, and the renewal of life in successive generations: in the concluding scene, face to face with new generations of forest creature, the forester lets his rifle (a symbol of the human subjugation of nature) fall from his shoulder, and he recedes into the background to the sounds of one of Janáček’s most beautiful orchestral odes. It is no wonder that Janáček wanted this scene played at his own funeral.

The opera was premiered on 3 November 1924 at Brno’s Theatre on the Ramparts (today the Mahen Theatre) with František Neumann conducting. The first performance at Prague’s National Theatre followed soon afterwards (18 May 1925, Otakar Ostrčil conducting). The opera crossed international borders thanks to Max Brod’s controversial German adaptation, premiered in Mainz on 13 February 1927 with Paul Breisach conducting. A production at Berlin’s Comic Opera directed by Walter Felsenstein was given 218 performances (premiered on 30 May 1956 and conducted by Václav Neumann), starting the opera on its way to a permanent place on stages around the world. The score was first printed by Universal Edition in 1961, and Jiří Zahrádka prepared a critical edition in 2010. Today, the opera is routinely performed in the original language, so the Vixen’s charmingly mixed-up Moravian dialect has become a world language at least on the opera stage.

In the 1930s, Václav Talich prepared an orchestral suite from the opera that has made its own way in the concert hall. In arranging the suite, Talich made well-intentioned alterations to Janáček’s orchestration to make the sound more typically romantic. Half a century later, Charles Mackerras restored Janáček’s original scoring to the suite arrangement.

The Czech Philharmonic has close ties to The Cunning Little Vixen. In 1979/80, the orchestra made a superb recording of the opera under the baton of Václav Neumann with Magdaléna Hajóssyová, Gabriela Beňačková, and Richard Novák in the lead roles. Today’s performance celebrates the opera’s youthful age of 100 years on the occasion of the centenary of the first performance in Brno.

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