Leoš Janáček, Věc Makropulos (The Makropoulos Case) (1926)
Based on: a play by Karel Čapek
Setting: Prague, 1920s
Sung in: Czech
Plot in 101 words or less: Sit back and enjoy the gripping tale of… the century-long court case, Gregor v. Prus. Say what? Open on… a law clerk filing papers. WTF? I dressed up for this! Enter… a beautiful blonde. Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. The blonde is Emilia Marty, aka Eugenia Montez, aka Ellian MacGregor, aka Elina Makropulos, a 300-year-old woman who doesn’t look a day over 29 (35 tops). Highlander-style, she’s adopted various identities over the years. Might I suggest “opera singer” isn’t the best cover? Nevertheless, Emilia intervenes in the case to obtain a hidden life-prolonging formula. Shockingly, things don’t quite go as planned.
This was not the first production of Vec Makropoulos I have attended—that would be the 2013 Opéra de Paris production—and I doubt it will be the last. As I wrote back when I reviewed Jenůfa in the summer, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all three Janáček’s operas I’ve seen; however, I can’t say I’ve loved either production of the convoluted plot of Makropoulos. While both productions had their merits, I think I appreciate the restraint shown by the San Francisco Opera more than the over-the-top iconography used in Paris. And whoever thought I’d be saying that?
I understand that the Paris production was making a statement on beauty, age, and stardom by using repeated projections of Marilyn Monroe, King Kong, Sunset Blvd, and the like, but it was all an unexplained jumble. Plus, how many people can identify clips of Norma Desmond off-hand? I much preferred the clock as passing time metaphor used here, which was only emphasized by the stark black and white set. I’m less clear on why the setting seems to be mid-twentieth century rather than the 1920s, but that’s a small detail.
The cast, led by Nadja Michael as Emilia Marty, acquitted themselves very well. Of particular note were Charles Workman as Albert Gregor and Brenton Ryan as Janek Prus, both of whom were making their San Francisco debut.
I also appreciated the innocence conveyed by Adler Fellow Julie Adams in her portrayal of young superfan Kristina and thought it served as an interesting contrast to Michael’s Marty, who was more fierce and cold than tragic.
In short, I thought this was a very strong production (and probably in any other year it would have stood out for me) but, after such a strong summer and fall, it was a bit of a disappointing close to our SFO season.