Robert Thicknesse outlines the plot of Janáček's foxy adventure, exploring the cycles of life we all share, sunflowers included.
Act 1: In the Moravian woods, a dipso gamekeeper dozing in the forest snaffles a fox cub, name of Sharp-ears, and takes her home as an unwilling pet. After fending off the sexual advances of the gamekeeper’s dachshund and attacking his children, Sharp-ears incites the chickens to revolution before massacring them, then sensibly legs it back to the forest.
Act 2: Sharp-ears evicts a badger from his sett by using it as a public convenience, and moves in. Following a prolonged drinking session with the gamekeeper, the local schoolmaster and priest indulge in amorous reveries in the forest, where Sharp-ears encourages the former in a sexual assault upon a sunflower he mistakes for his former girlfriend.
A local fox takes a fancy to Sharp-Ears, leading with sad inevitability from a rabbit-based supper to pregnancy and a shotgun wedding conducted by a woodpecker.
Act 3: Sharp-ears foolishly gets herself shot by the local poacher, who gives the resulting fox-fur stole to his bride, the schoolmaster’s ex (not the sunflower, the other one). The gamekeeper runs into her cubs in the forest, but is too drunk and decrepit by now to catch them.
Fancy that: Janáček’s daily introduced him to a fox-based strip-cartoon in the local paper with unusually carefree words by the future wife-murderer and suicide Rudolf Tĕsnohlídek, and he was so smitten with the story he decided to make it into an opera. Sharp-ears had started life as “Bystronožka” (Fleet-foot) until a copyist’s typo – Bystrouška – improved her hearing.