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Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
The Makropulos Case

Emilia Marty - Anja Silja (soprano)
Albert Gregor - Kim Begley (tenor)
Baron Prus - Victor Braun (baritone)
Dr. Kolenatý - Andrew Shore (bass-baritone)
Vítek - Anthony Roden (tenor)
Kristina - Manuela Kriscak (soprano)
Janek - Christopher Ventris (tenor)
Hauk-Šendorf - Robert Tear (tenor)
Chambermaid - Susan Gorton (alto)
Stage Hand - Henry Waddington (bass)
Cleaner - Menai Davies (alto)
Celeste - Jonathan Hinden (non-singing role)
The Glyndebourne Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Davis
Recorded Glyndebourne Opera House 1995(?)
WARNER MUSIC VIDEO 0630-14016-2 [95:00]

 

This Glyndebourne production, directed by Nikolaus Lehnhoff, designed by Tobias Hoheisel and conducted by Andrew Davis, made a terrific impact when it was first staged, and it is wonderful to have it on DVD. The whole thing centres on Anja Silja’s performance as the enigmatic opera singer Emilia Marty. Although a purist might wish to see a younger woman in the role, she is magnetically powerful. Her reading carries the authority and depth that can only be acquired by years of familiarity with the music and drama.

This is very much an ‘indoors’ opera, much of the action taking place in the unpromising surroundings of solicitors’ offices or hotel bedrooms. But that gives the whole thing greater realism, a total absence of the Romantic trappings of 19th century opera. Apart from Silja’s great portrayal of the central character, there are fine performances from Kim Begley as Albert Gregor and Manuela Kriscak as Kristina, to name but two. There are also nice cameos for such perennial favourites as Robert Tear, who is excellent as poor mad Hauk, and Susan Gorton as Marty’s maid.

The playing by the LPO under Davis is very fine, as one is aware from the very beginning of the overture, in which typical Janáček motoric rhythms alternate with moments of impassioned lyricism. The eye is allowed to wander around the office of solicitor Kolenatý, taking in the piles of documents, but also, more significantly the row upon row of luggage with the initials E.M. for Emilia Marty. This lady has been around a bit, we surmise, and how very right we prove to be! The obsessive two note phrases in brass and timpani become a wake-up call for the dozing legal clerk Vítek – as the orchestra cuts off, the alarm clock on his desk goes off – the production is full of touches like that, witty but significant brush-strokes which enliven the whole thing.

There is humour and pathos in the ridiculous posturing of Marty’s former lover Hauk, now demented, as well as darker moments, of which the most chilling is Marty’s cold, inhuman reaction at the news of the suicide of Janek, Prus’s son. It all moves inexorably towards the stunning final scene, when the ailing Marty offers the young and beautiful Kristina the Makropulos formula for a life lasting three hundred years. Kristina, though, takes the document and sets it alight, and the charred pieces of paper float around aimlessly through the strident closing bars of orchestral music.

This is opera at its best, exploring the often uncomfortable interface between intellect and intuition, between emotion and cold realism. The production of this great piece of music-theatre to DVD has been overseen with conspicuous success by Brian Large. It is of course taken from live performance(s), so that there are some small glitches in the orchestral playing, and some mildly untidy ensemble here and there. The worst drawback is that singers inevitably move off-mike from time to time. But none of this is serious enough to detract from what is a memorable dramatic and musical experience.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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