Histoire burlesque chantée et jouée
Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Based on Russian folk tales from Alexander Afanaseyev’s collection
First performed: Théâtre de l’Opéra, Paris, 18 May 1922, in a double bill with Mavra
“Le Renard continues the great Stravinskist tradition,” Vogue (1 July 1922) wrote when the Ballets Russes premièred the opera-ballet in Paris.
This “burlesque in song and dance” is based on a Russian folktale. A fox tries twice to eat a rooster; the cat and the ram, his friends, rescue the cock. The animals strangle the fox, chop him into little bits, and dance around singing. The whole work lasts less than 20 minutes.
The work is, apparently, Stravinsky’s first experimental work, with singers, ballet dancers, and orchestra sharing the stage.
“It is related to the Rite of Spring,” Vogue wrote; “its burlesque side evokes Petrouchka –but marks a step forward in the conquest of new worlds of sound.”
And there we hit a snag. I don’t particularly like Stravinsky. (Oddly, I enjoy Bartók.)
Le Renard, like much of his output, is tuneless and cacophonic. The four male voices(two tenors, two basses) – no women – are often strident, while the orchestra –lots of drums, cymbals, cimbalom, horns, and violin – is astringent.