Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Věc Makropulos
Emilia Marty - Angela Denoke
Gregor - Raymond Very
Vitek - Peter Hoare
Krista - Jurgita Adamonytė
Prus - Johan Reuter
Janek - Aleš Briscein
Kolenatý - Jochen Schmeckenbecher
Hauk - Ryland Davies
Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor
Wiener Philharmoniker/Esa-Pekka Salonen
Christoph Marthaler (Stage Director)
rec. live, Salzburg Festival, Felsenreitschule, 8, 30 August 2011
Filmed in High Definition
Picture: NTSC / 16:9; Sound: PCM Stereo and DTS 5.1; Region: 0 (worldwide)
UNITEL/C MAJOR 709508 DVD [118:00]
Musically this is a very fine version of The Makropulos Affair. It’s dominated by the superb presence of the Vienna Philharmonic in the pit. They’re Salzburg regulars but here they cast a special magic over a score that can sometimes sound jagged or fragmentary. Often in this opera Janáček gives the most lyrical melodies to the orchestra rather than to the singers. The glorious nature of the orchestral sound really helps this aspect of the work to come alive. They are sumptuous, rich and beautiful, and they are captured in very good DTS sound so that they sound even more vibrant here than they do for Mackerras on his famous Decca recording (on CD). They are helped by Esa-Pekka Salonen’s commanding presence. He helps to shape the unfolding of the score to play up the melodic elements and he creates a very satisfying sense of shape to the opera. When the camera focuses on him he tends to be thrashing around to the more angular rhythmic elements, but the lyrical side is there too and it really shows.
The singers are also very good too, led by an outstanding Marty from Angela Denoke. She commands the stage with her charismatic presence, dominating every exchange, as well she should, and her voice is superb, rich and beautiful with a lovely bloom that helps to suggest the character’s great experience: those 337 years have got to show somehow! The finest of the men is Johan Reuter whose Prus is a revelation. His character is every bit as domineering as Denoke’s and he combines dignity with cunning, showing that he is a worthy sparring partner for Marty, as well as her most dangerous adversary. However, he also sings with great beauty and authority, making this a three-dimensional character. In the hands of two such great artists, Marty and Prus’ jousting session at the end of Act 2 becomes the highlight of the opera. Raymond Very’s Gregor is ardent and thrustful, singing the character’s love music with lyrical abandon and demonstrating that he is totally enslaved to Marty’s magic. Peter Hoare’s Vitek is officious but lyrical, while Jurgita Adamonytė’s Krista is bright but also slightly brittle, contrasting her with the more domineering soprano of Denoke. Ryland Davies steals the show as Hauk, lyrical and smooth, suggesting an old man brought back to life by his unexpected reunion with a childhood sweetheart.
So far, so good; but - dear me! - what a dog’s breakfast of a production! Marthaler divides the stage into three sections, the central wooden courtroom providing the venue for most of the action. He flanks these with a functional waiting room - with a conservatory in the background - and sealed glass room in which actors sometimes sit and observe the action. He begins each act with a dumb show in which actors silently enact the same repetitious scene; presumably this is a method of reflecting Marty’s view of the meaninglessness of life, but I just found it tedious. More damagingly, these dumb shows continue on the sides of the main action and the camera periodically cuts away to them, severing the viewer’s connection to the main action. Often when characters enter they do so in a stylised, ritualistic manner, almost like a Japanese Noh drama: Marty, too, performs all manner of artful contortions during her scene in Kolenatý’s office. However, if there was a point to all this then I couldn’t see it, and Marthaler seems continually determined to distract the viewer from the story rather than bringing it to life.
That’s a shame, because it means that this is a DVD to enjoy with the screen turned off. If you want Makropolus on a DVD then you probably still won’t find finer than Anja Silja’s 1995 performance at Glyndebourne - with Andrew Davis on Warner, though without surround sound. Otherwise, on CD Sir Charles Mackerras has two very fine versions in Czech - on Decca with Elisabeth Söderström - and a not at all bad one in English on Chandos with Cheryl Barker.
Simon Thompson 

A DVD to enjoy with the screen turned off.