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Opera Students work with Boston City Singers

Opera students of The Boston Conservatory Work with Local Children's Chorus on Leo Janacek's The Cunning Little Vixen

Performers in The Boston Conservatory’s production of Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen are learning more than just how to engage an audience. Along with learning their lines in Czech, memorizing their stage movements and hitting the right notes, students are also learning how to collaborate with different artist groups.

“Doing The Cunning Little Vixen was a great way for us to serve our opera students, work across inter-divisional lines with our talented Boston Conservatory dance students, and forge a new and exciting partnership with a dynamic children's chorus in Boston,” said Johnathon Pape, the stage director for the production.

This unique opera, which tells the story of a young fox cub that is captured by a forester and forced into a life of captivity before finally escaping, calls for 10 characters to be played by children. Pape saw it as a perfect opportunity to collaborate with Boston City Singers, a youth program that works with children ages 4 to18 to inspire young musicians. 

“It was a wonderful blend of energies,” Pape said. “The characters of the Vixen, Fox and Forester have direct interactions with the children, and they were all positively affected by the youthful energy, openness and delight in singing that these young artists brought to their work.”

The 10 Boston City Singers, ages 7 to13, perform the roles of Little Vixen, Little Frog and the title character’s cubs. Rehearsing approximately a dozen times before opening night, the singers also practiced along with a recording to learn their parts in Czech. Mark Leuning ’14, a current graduate student with a concentration in pedagogy at The Boston Conservatory, helped to teach the singers about the difficult language.

“I was impressed with how quickly these bright, young singers were successful at singing rhythmically, linguistically and harmonically complex music,” Leuning said. “It is a testament to the kind of training they are getting with Boston City Singers, and I was thrilled to play a part in providing such young voices this incredible opportunity to sing and act in a fully-staged production with The Boston Conservatory."

Based on a popular comic strip, The Cunning Little Vixen offers unique challenges to Boston Conservatory students and production staff. Sung in the original Czech language with English supertitles, students stretch their limits with a new language and a physically demanding production. Pape believes this learning experience is crucial for the participating students.

“At the Conservatory, we try to provide our opera students with a variety of musical styles, languages, composers, etc.,” Pape said. “So doing Vixen, particularly in Czech, provides the students with a fantastic challenge and a great experience of a unique opera.” 

Wendy Silverberg, the instructor managing the collaboration from Boston City Singers, said it has been a great learning experience and a lot of fun for the children.

"The young singers have been remarkably attentive and quick to follow the director's prompts. Watching them on the set for the first time was truly amazing,” Silverberg said. “The set is on a steep slant that will look like a mountain and it was so much fun to watch them prance around it like real fox cubs!”

For more information about Boston City Singers, visit



The Boston Conservatory is breathing new life into Leoš Janáček’s classic Czech opera,
Příhody Lišky Bystroušky, better known as The Cunning Little Vixen. Performances will be at The Boston Conservatory Theater from November 21 to 24. 

The Cunning Little Vixen is being performed at the Conservatory in the original Czech language with English supertitles and features collaboration between the theater and dance departments, as well as The Boston City Singers, a local non-profit organization that offers music education and vocal instruction. The show has 46 singers, eight dancers and 10 children in all. 

Stage Director Jonathan Pape has a strong personal connection to this opera and Czech repertoire, having received a Fulbright Research Grant in opera and theater to the Czech Republic in 1994. “Janáček’s compositional voice is truly unique and evocative,” says Pape. “His deep love and study of nature is reflected throughout the score.” 

The Cunning Little Vixen is based off a popular comic strip from Janáček’s local newspaper in the early 1920s. Janáček was 70 years old when the opera first premiered and poured a great deal of wisdom into the work, yet the piece is known as having a remarkably youthful tone. 

It tells the story of a young female fox—a vixen—who is taken from the wild. Overwhelmed and frightened by domesticated life, she arranges an eventual escape, but continues to get into mischief both in her domestic and wild realms. The story explores the cycle of life, the endlessly regenerating power of nature and the concept that birth and death are just different places on the same continuum. Although the opera deals with the very serious topics of life and death, there is also a great deal of humor, wit and charm throughout. 

“The students have really gone into training for this show,” says Pape, who notes the challenging music, conducted by Andrew Altenbach, the difficult Czech language and the extreme physicality required in the staging. “To portray the animals, the actors have to deal with all kinds of physically-demanding movements, like crawling, rolling and hopping around a raked stage. But for all the challenges, it’s also immensely rewarding.” 

The Cunning Little Vixen is running Thursday, November 21 through Saturday, November 23 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25 for regular seating and $30 for premium seating, with discounts available, and can be purchased through The Boston Conservatory Box Office at 31 Hemenway Street, by phone at (617) 912-9222 or online at

About The Boston Conservatory 
The Boston Conservatory trains exceptional, young performing artists for careers that enrich and transform the human experience. Known for its intimate and supportive multi-disciplinary environment, The Boston Conservatory offers fully accredited graduate and undergraduate programs in music, dance and musical theater, and presents more than 200 performances each year by students, faculty and guest artists. Since its founding in 1867, The Boston Conservatory has shared its talent and creativity with the city of Boston, the region and the nation, and continues to grow today as a vibrant community of artists and educators. For more information, visit


To reach the Box Office visit or call (617) 912-9222.

For media inquires contact Courtney Kennedy at or (617) 431-1173


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