The teaming up of RSAMD’s best students with Scottish Opera has now become a much-anticipated annual event: in a showcase of best practice, it demonstrates how a national opera company can work together with a national music conservatoire to provide immensely valuable experience, and a chance for the youngsters to work right alongside the professionals on stage, off stage and in the pit.

Reviewer's photo of programme showing Emily Chappell's illustrations.
Reviewer's photo of programme showing Emily Chappell's illustrations.

This year, the combined forces chose to revive David Poutney’s much-loved 1980′s WNO/SO joint production of Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen, not seen in Glasgow since 1997. Always a charming piece, Poutney’s production was a landmark of its time, and the undulating forest design by Maria Bjornson adds much to the magic of the musical soundscape.

This year, for the first time, Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists were added into the mix, as were pupils from Scottish Ballet. To get the most value for the exercise, the main singing parts were double-cast, with a performance apiece in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The opera is on one level about the forest and its animals, and we follow the story of Vixen Sharp-Ears, taken back to the Forester’s home as a pet cub, but who quickly shows her true character by killing his hens and escaping. She meets a mate, and they have playful cubs, but though she is shot and killed by the Poacher, it is clear that life continues in the forest year on year.

And year on year, this opera is about old age, and loves which might have been: the Schoolmaster misses his chance to marry Ternyka as his friend the Poacher beats him to it, and the Forester sings about old age and the shot vixen. In the final moments, a frog jumps onto his lap, and reminds him that he is the grandson of the frog who did the same thing when he first met Sharp-Ears.

Janacek was 70 years old when wrote the Cunning Little Vixen and deep in unrequited love with the much younger (and married) Kamila Stösslová. It makes the Forester’s final song about old age and the seasons turning all the more poignant and it was performed at Janacek's funeral.

Seen on its second night in Glasgow, the evening belonged to Michel de Souza, Scottish Opera Emerging Artist who sang a wonderful Forester, and he was well matched by opera student Natalie Montakhab’s vivacious vixen who put in a simply thrilling performance. But that is not to detract from the large cast of enthusiastic singers and dancers, directed with precision by revival director Elaine Tyler-Hall, which made this a memorable evening. The Scottish Opera Orchestra, sprinkled with RSAMD students was clearly enjoying itself and was ably conducted by Timothy Dean, Head of Opera at RSAMD.

And finally, a special mention to Emily Chappell for the charming programme illustrations.

****1