Opera Scotland

Makropulos Case Věc Makropulos

Music
Leoš Janáček (born Hukvaldy, 3 July 1854; died Ostrava, 12 August 1928)

Text
The composer.

Source
Drama (1922), by Karel Capek (1890-1938).

Premieres
First performance: Brno (National Theatre), 18 December 1926.
First UK performance: London (Sadler’s Wells Theatre), 12 February 1964.
First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King’s Theatre), 3 September 1970.
Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 15 April 1981.

Background
With The Makropulos Case, Janáček continued his habit of selecting unusual subjects for his operas. In Emilia he created an astonishing role for a great singing actress. Emilia Marty is the latest persona adopted by Elina Makropulos, daughter of a physician who concocted an elixir of life in the late 16th century. This potion was tested first on his daughter, who has required a dose at regular intervals in order to sustain her life, and has always remained beautiful. However she has been obliged to disappear from time to time, moving to a new location and changing her identity, always retaining the initials EM and a career as a singer. Her interim identities have included Ellian MacGregor and Eugenia Montez. As the drama begins, it is 1922, Emilia is 337 years old, and she is feeling the need of a refresher. Unfortunately, the formula was mislaid, and is among the papers tied up in a legal case which has continued for many years in Prague. It becomes clear that she has been intimately connected with the affair.

Main Characters
Vítek, the lawyer’s clerk (tenor)
Albert Gregor, a litigant (tenor)
Kristina, Vítek’s daughter (soprano)
Dr Kolenatý, a lawyer (baritone)
Emilia Marty, an opera singer (soprano)
Baron Jaroslav Prus, Gregor’s opponent (baritone)
Janek, Prus’s son (tenor)
Count Hauk-Šendorf, former lover of EM (tenor)

Plot Summary
In the chambers of Dr Kolenatý, Albert Gregor is anxious to hear the latest news of his family legal wrangle, in which the Gregors have challenged for control of the Prus assets. Emilia comes in with the lawyer, and knows a surprising amount about it. She reveals the existence of a hitherto unknown will. Gregor sends Kolenatý off to the Baron’s house to look for it. Albert is fascinated by her, but she is only interested in some Greek papers she is convinced he must have. Kolenatý and the Baron come in with the will, but Prus says more evidence is still needed. At the theatre after the performance, Emilia is offhand with everyone who congratulates her, but is touched by the arrival of a doddery old Count, who comments on her resemblance to his mistress of many years ago, Eugenia Montez. Prus tells Emilia that the documents show confusion between two women’s names (MacGregor and Makropulos) and that the Gregor claim is invalid. Emilia is only interested in obtaining the old Greek documents, and spends the night with Prus in order to get them. Kolenatý now accuses Emilia of forgery. As the old documents in her trunk are examined, she explains her history, but realising that death will be a welcome release, she gives the formula to Kristina, who burns it.

RECORDINGS

DECCA 421 852-2 (2 mid-price CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1978

Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Elisabeth Söderström (Emilia Marty), Petr Dvorský (Albert Gregor), Jaroslav Prus (Vaclav Vitek).

Söderström again creates a gripping characterisation of a fascinating Janáček character (heroine in this instance is not the right term). She sang the part in English with WNO in the first run of David Pountney’s production, which was later presented by Scottish Opera. This was televised, but no recording has ever been released commercially. On disc, Söderström is supported by a superb cast of native Czech speakers, some from Prague, some from Bratislava. Mackerras as usual encourages the orchestra to produce wonderful sounds as though they had been playing Janáček all their lives.

CHANDOS (2 mid-price CDs) Sung in English Recorded 2006

Conductor: Sir Charles Mackerras
Orchestra of English National Opera
Cheryl Barker (Emilia Marty), Robert Brubaker (Albert Gregor), John Wegner (Jaroslav Prus).

The late Sir Charles Mackerras’s second recording of Makropulos was made live at performances in the London Coliseum. There is no problem with recording quality, and the sense of dramatic immediacy is palpable. Norman Tucker’s translation, familiar from performances all over Britain, comes across clearly. Many of the singers have appeared with Scottish Opera in the past, not least Cheryl Barker herself. John Graham-Hall (Vitek) recently sang Brouček in Scotland, and Elena Xanthoudakis was Adina in the revival of L’elisir d’amore – a role that Barker sang when the production was new. Thomas Walker was Lindoro in The Italian Girl in Algiers, and Graham Clark (Hauk-Šendorf) was a regular member of the company in his youth, and has been back several times since. The discs also contain a fascinating half-hour interview between Sir Charles and Rodney Milnes about the conductor’s life-long love of Janáček’s music. The notes are excellent too – with a very clear yet detailed synopsis of the plot.

SUPRAPHON (2 mid-price CDs) Sung in Czech Recorded 1966

Conductor: Bohumil Gregor
Orchestra of the Prague National Theatre
Libuše Prylová (Emilia Marty), Ivo Žídek (Albert Gregor), P?emysl Ko?í (Jaroslav Prus).

This is the recording based on the production by the famous pairing of Václav Kašlík (director) and Josef Svoboda (designer) that came to Edinburgh in 1970. It was not one of their better efforts, seeming at the time almost wilfully obscure, though perhaps not by modern standards. However musically it is fine. Bohumil Gregor was an excellent Janáček conductor, and the soloists who repeated their roles in Edinburgh, in addition to Ivo Žídek, included Karel Berman (Kolenatý), Rudolf Vonásek (Vitek), Helena Tattermuschová (Kristina), Milan Karpíšek (Hauk-Šendorf), as well as the veteran pre-war dramatic soprano Jaroslava Procházková (Cleaner),

The Cast

Albert Gregor
 a litigant
Chambermaid
 
Charlady
 
Count Hauk-Šendorf
 former lover of EM
Dr Kolenatý
 a lawyer
Emilia Marty
 an opera singer
Jánek
 Prus's son
Jaroslav Prus
 a Baron, Gregor's opponent
Kristina
 Vítek's daughter
Stagehand
 
Vítek
 a solicitor's clerk

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