Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Makropulos Case

Conductor:  Jiří Bělohlávek
Production:  Frank Philipp Schlössmann

Vítek:  Thomas Glenn
Albert Gregor:  Miro Dvorsky
Kristina:  Susannah Biller*
Dr. Kolenatý:  Dale Travis*
Emilia Marty:  Karita Mattila*
Baron Jaroslav Prus:  Gerd Grochowski
A Cleaning Woman:  Maya Lahyani*
A Stagehand Austin Kness*
Janek:  Brian Jagde*
Count Hauk-Šendor:  Matthew O'Neill*
A Chambermaid:  Maya Lahyani
*Role Debut

I am embarrassed to confess that this opening of The Makropulos Case at the San Francisco Opera was my first experience of the opera.  Everyone asked me where was I when so and so did it?  I have no excuse.  The series of performances was dedicated to Sir Charles Mackerras, the father of modern Janáček performance.

This was my fifth Janáček opera after Katya Kabanova, Jenůfa and The Cunning Little Vixen in San Francisco and From the House of the Dead on DVD.  The music never makes me think of Wagner.  He eschews Romantic tonality without even seeming to notice it exists.  I'm going to say something outrageous now so please duck:  to me he almost reminds me of Mussorgsky.  Almost.  Am I too far out on a limb yet? Wikipedia says he was influenced by Puccini.  I can see that in the vocal writing.  It's sort of verismo without the Italian soul.

The act I set is shown in the picture above.  The other two scenes are equally simple.  There was a giant clock in two acts that showed the actual time.

We begin with a court case that has been going on for almost 100 years.  Count Prus died intestate, and the members of the Prus family possess the estate.  One Albert Gregor claims that Count Prus named his ancestor Ferdinand Gregor as the intended heir.  The case drags on rather like Bleak House.

Then one day Emilia Marty is in town in her guise as a famous opera singer and drops by the law office to ask about the case.  Though none of them have ever seen her before, except possibly across the footlights, she seems to know all about the case.  She describes an existing will and tells them exactly where to find it.

Characters speculate about Emilia's age.  She must be at least 30, they say.  She is very beautiful and all the men fall in love with her.  It would be better to see it without knowing what's going on, perhaps.  She knows where the will is because she was present when it was placed there almost 100 years before.  Emilia has had many names and is over 300 years old.  She began her life in Crete as Elina Makropulos and has returned because she feels herself to be dying and wants another dose of the life-sustaining drug.

Isn't this fun!  Five of the smaller parts were played by Adler Fellows, and another was played by Thomas Glenn, a former fellow.  If there is a Janáček style, no one knows what it is, so don't worry.  Susannah Biller as Kristina was especially nice.

The star of the show, singing the virtually immortal Elina, is Karita Mattila.  She is towering, intense, gorgeous, outrageous, and utterly fabulous.  There was lots of audience screaming.  They closed the curtain before we were finished screaming, seemed not to know what to do with sustained applause.

Maybe I would like to see this with the closeup screens.

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