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Příhody lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen) Ecopolitics and Nationalism

Somerville, Daniel ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8219-6884 and McFadden, Becka (2021) Příhody lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen) Ecopolitics and Nationalism. In: IFTR Galway (online), 12th to 16th July 2021, Galway (online). (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper discusses Leoš Janáček’s opera, Příhody lišky Bystroušky (The Cunning Little Vixen) in relation to ecopolitics and nationalism. Janáček’s opera has as a central philosophical concern, humankind’s relationship to nature, played out through a tale of a forester and a vixen. Her capture, escape, motherhood and ultimately her death at the hands of a poacher provide a narrative arc through which human characters are viewed as, at once, separate from and intricately linked to, nature. Writing at a time when proponents of the Czech lands’ independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire looked to Czech-language plays and operas to support their cause, Janáček’s earlier works provided a space for nationalist sentiment through his employment of Czech and its regional dialects, supported by music that follows the flow of the language. In The Cunning Little Vixen, sounds of nature, such as birdsong, were notated to form the fabric of the sound-world, in which human language is given equal treatment to the sounds of nature. This, alongside the tradition of Czech classical music’s evocation of nature (Smetana’s Má vlast, and the Czech national anthem “Kde domov můj” from Josef Kajetán Tyl’s play Fidlovačka, with its references to landscape) situates The Cunning Little Vixen in particular, as an opera which evokes nationhood through the connection of the people to the land. The programme notes of the Welsh National Opera production directed by David Pountney signal a similarity to the Welsh sentiment of hiraeth (a longing for the land), pertaining to landscape as well as a place of a people. This is cited as justification for Sir Charles Mackerras championing Janáček’s operas within the company. Examined through discussion of the WNO production and more recent productions in the Czech Republic, as well as archival resources at the Theatre Institute in Prague, the paper explores whether the opera provides a space where philosophical and political concerns of national identity and the environment can co-exist.
Czech theatre has a long tradition of involvement in social-political movements, from the building of Prague’s National Theatre via public donations, to the Velvet Revolution, and more recently the inclusion of pro-democracy protests in Prague as part the annual Czech Theatre Night. The motivation for this can be seen, on one side, as a practical solution to avoiding clashes, thereby mitigating issues of access to the theatre during protests, while simultaneously signalling support for the protests, encouraging involvement by theatre goers. Within this political environment, the paper enquires whether Janáček’s opera provides a space of dialogue between 21st century populist nationalism and pro-environment politics. The research asks if we can reconceive this opera as a vehicle for promoting sustainability alongside, and via, a concept of national pride that encompasses an imperative to protect the environment. The paper looks at ways in which these productions of the opera orientate towards this idea, in an echo of the political goals in play at its inception.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: opera, Janáček, Příhody lišky Bystroušky, Cunning Little Vixen, Vixen, Ecopolitics, Environmentalism, Nationalism, Deep ecology, Czech opera, Czech theatre, Productions, Dramaturgy
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > M Music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Arts
Depositing User: Dr Daniel Somerville
Date Deposited: 23 Mar 2022 11:54
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2022 11:54
URI: https://eprints.worc.ac.uk/id/eprint/11800

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