The Makropulos Affair review: fast and flashy

The Makropulos Affair review: fast and flashy

Only someone who has lived for centuries might know how to find long-hidden evidence to help resolve a lengthy legal dispute over an inheritance. In Janáček’s penultimate opera, singer Emilia Marty lived for 337 years, originally named Elina Makropulos and assuming different identities over the many decades, while still using the same initials. But linked to her interest in her in the case of Gregor v Prus is Marty’s desperate search to find the secret formula for the elixir that guaranteed her immortality. As the young daughter of Hieronymus Makropulos – physician of the Holy Roman Emperor or Rudolf II who ordered Makropulos to find a means to prolong her life – Elina was the unfortunate guinea pig.

Placing it in the 1920s when the opera was written and suited to a story whose heroine aspires to be the greatest operatic performer ever, Olivia Fuchs’ new production for the Welsh National Opera has a suitably exaggerated and flamboyant air. It is also all one piece with the often tumultuous feel and fast current of Janáček’s music, electrifying here performed by the WNO orchestra under its musical director, Tomáš Hanus. Co-editor of the new edition of the current score, Hanus’s affinity with Janáček was always evident, with enchanting details emerging.

In Nicola Turner’s project, the settings of the three acts – the prosecutor’s office, the backstage of the theater where Marty has just sung, his hotel room – brought a certain degree of clarity to the complex narrative, sung in Czech. Ironically, what didn’t work was when, between the first two acts and the set change coverage, Mark Le Brocq as himself and employee Vitek addressed the audience in English explaining who was who. . He was just stupid.

As for the diva roles – Elisabeth Söderström sang in the 1978 WNO production – this requires a commanding presence and soprano Ángeles Blancas Gulín was definitely that. Broadly embracing the vocal challenge, she has brought near brute physicality to encounters with various men whose passions are aroused – young Janek is driven to suicide – and her native Spanish talent has colored Marty’s reunion with her former lover, Baron Hauk (Alan Oke). In the uniformly strong cast, Nicky Spence and David Stout were excellent as contenders Albert Gregor and Baron Prus.

The essential, deeply philosophical question of whether immortality might actually be desirable takes center stage as Marty’s hitherto cold behavior begins to thaw, the aging process now accelerates. In her latest exhortation to those around her to celebrate their one existence, Janáček’s life-affirming purpose is manifest, the music shines. Significantly, Kristina (Harriet Eyley), the young singer to whom he offers the ancient scroll with the details of the elixir, sets him on fire. It is the starting point for the end of Marty.

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