The Cunning Little Vixen, at once a charming children's tale and a profound allegory of modern life, may be Janáček's greatest achievement. It begins innocuously, as a folksy old forester -- as a child Janáček dreamed of being a forester -- captures a fox cub and brings her to his home. She runs amok, slaughters the chickens, and in banished to the woods. There she finds a handsome lover and woos him to music that parodies Wagnerian opera, notably Strauss in his kitschier moods. In Act III, the vixen is felled by a rifle shot, and the opera takes on an altogether different tone. In the final scene the forester steps out of his folk tale role and meditates on the passage of time. He seems to be musing about the very opera that he's in. "Is this fairy tale or reality? Reality or fairy tale?" The forester falls asleep, and when he wakes the animals of the woods surround hum. He sees fox cubs play and realizes that they are the vixen's children. He then catches a little frog in his hand, thinking he's seeing the same "clammy little monster" whom he met in the first scene of the opera.
Forester: Where have you come from?
-- from The Rest is Noise by Alex RossFrog: That wasn't me, that was grandpa! They told me all about you.In other words, the animals of the forest have been telling stories about the forester over the course of their brief lives, as if he were a hero from long ago. In the disjuncture between human and animal time we see him -- and ourselves -- across an immense space.