THERE'S A LOT to be said about Opera Theater Oregon's upcoming performance of The Cunning Little Vixen, but let's start with this: For the first time ever, they are taking their performance outside. OTO's mission is making opera accessible, and The Cunning Little Vixen has something for each of your senses, with food, dance, sprightly folk music, and an orchard setting on Sauvie Island.
The Cunning Little Vixen gathers a cast of nearly 30 performers on Wild Goose Farm. It boasts a bar and a one-night farm-to-table dinner by chef Thomas Boyce (previously of Bluehour); beyond the dinner, picnicking is encouraged. Even the costumes are lovely—minimalist, but with ruching and a feminine flare, designed by Useless Woman AC and Brianna Holan.
The Cunning Little Vixen began as an illustrated serial novella in a Czech newspaper, which was then adapted into an opera by Leoš Janácek. (OTO will perform an English translation.) The opera dates back to the '20s; the music is spirited and comical, with adult themes. The story involves humans and animals, following the life cycle of a fox who's raised on a farm, then breaks free to fall in love and start her own family.
At rehearsals, Caitlin Mathes (of Portland Opera), was charmingly animated as Vixen Sharp-Ears, the fox, prowling the stage and stalking a large plush bunny. Musical director Erica Melton apologized for the small cast at rehearsal, saying there "were more, but some chickens had to leave." In addition to a full regiment of chickens, the final performance will feature a harp, reed organ, and a host of other instruments. Portland-based Agnieszka Laska choreographed the piece, and the show includes her company dancers. Helena and Mark Greathouse open the show with Slovak folk music, in the form of animated cabaret.
The Cunning Little Vixen runs for only four nights—originally, it was planned as two weekends. A preview in the Oregonian resulted in a reader filing a land-use complaint, putting a kink in the programming; the show was initially staged for a barn but was moved outdoors after the complaint, and cut to four performances. Regardless of any bumps, The Cunning Little Vixen still sounds like a Portlander's perfect summer fever dream: music, great food, and the lush outdoors.