The Makropulos Affair (opera)

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The Makropulos Affair
Opera by Leoš Janáček
Leos Janacek relief.jpg
Relief of the composer by Julius Pelikán
Native title Věc Makropulos (The Makropulos Thing)
Other title The Makropoulos Case
Librettist Janáček
Language Czech
Based on The Makropulos Affair 
by Karel Čapek
Premiere 18 December 1926 (1926-12-18)
National Theatre, Brno

The Makropulos Affair (or The Makropoulos Case, The Makropulos Secret, or, literally, The Makropulos Thing; Czech Věc Makropulos[1]) is an Czech opera in 3 acts, with music and libretto by Leoš Janáček. Janáček based his opera on the play of the same name by Karel Čapek. Composed between 1923 and 1925, The Makropulos Affair was his penultimate opera and, like much of his later work, it was inspired by his infatuation with Kamila Stösslová, a married woman much younger than himself.

The opera received its world premiere at the National Theatre in Brno on 18 December 1926, conducted by František Neumann.

Composition history[edit]

Janáček had seen the play early in its run in Prague on 10 December 1922, and immediately saw its potential as an opera. He entered into a correspondence with Čapek, who was accommodating towards the idea, although legal problems in securing the rights to the play delayed work. When these problems were cleared on 10 September 1923, Janáček began work on the opera. By December 1924, he had completed the first draft of the work. He spent another year refining the score, before completing it on 3 December 1925.

Musically, much of the piece has little in the way of thematic development, instead presenting the listener with a mass of different motifs and ideas. Janáček's writings indicate that this was a deliberate ploy to give musical embodiment to the disruptive, unsettling main character Emilia Marty/Elina Makropulos. Only at the end of the final act, when Makropulos' vulnerability is revealed, does the music tap into and develop the rich lyrical vein that has driven it throughout.

Performance history[edit]

Janacek was making adjustments to the score almost right up to the premiere in Brno. Two years after its premiere, the opera was given in Prague, and also in Germany in 1929, but it did not become really popular until a production by the Sadler's Wells company in London in 1964. While performed with some regularity, it has not become part of the core opera repertory in the same way as have Jenůfa, Káťa Kabanová or The Cunning Little Vixen.

In 1966, the San Francisco Opera gave the first US performances (in an English translation), with Marie Collier in the lead role.[2] The first New York City performance was in December 1967, by the Little Orchestra Society with Nadezda Kniplova as Emilia Marty.[3] The first Metropolitan Opera production of the opera had its opening night on 5 January 1996, but ended prematurely only a few minutes into Act 1 when tenor Richard Versalle, 63, whilst climbing the 20-foot ladder which was part of the set, fell and died on stage immediately after singing Vitek's line: "Too bad you can only live so long".[4][5]

The opera has been given twice at The Proms, in August 1995 (the Glyndebourne production presented in concert at the Royal Albert Hall) and in August 2016 (an independent semi-staged concert version).[6]

Roles[edit]

Role Voice type Premiere cast, December 18, 1926
(Conductor: František Neumann)
Emilia Marty, formerly Elina Makropulos, a celebrated singer soprano Alexandra Čvanová
Albert Gregor tenor Emil Olšovský
Dr Kolenatý, a lawyer bass-baritone Ferdinand Pour
Vítek, Kolenatý's clerk tenor Valentin Šindler
Kristina, his daughter, a young singer soprano Jožka Mattesová
Baron Jaroslav Prus baritone Zdeněk Otava
Janek, his son tenor Antonín Pelc
Count Hauk-Šendorf tenor Václav Šindler
a Stage Technician baritone Jaroslav Čihák
a Cleaning Woman alto Jelena Ježičová
a Maid alto
Offstage male chorus

Synopsis[edit]

Act 1[edit]

Kolenatý's law office, Prague, 1922

Vitek, Kolenatý's clerk, notes that the probate case of Gregor v. Prus has been going on for almost a century. Kolenatý represents the middle-class Gregors against the wealthy and aristocratic Prus family. Albert Gregor comes in asking about the case, Kolenatý has taken it to the Supreme Court, but has not returned because he is expecting the final resolution. Vitek's daughter Kristina, enters. She is a young singer, and praises Emilia Marty, a famous singer she has seen rehearsing and admits that she will never be the artist Emilia Marty is.

Kolenatý returns, accompanied (surprisingly) by Emilia Marty, who reviews the case with her. Baron Joseph Ferdinand Prus died in 1827, leaving no will or legitimate children. His cousin claimed the estate, but so did Albert's ancestor, Ferdinand Gregor, who asserted that the Baron had promised the estate to him both presenting different evidence to their case but no actual will. Here Emilia interrupts. Speaking with unusual familiarity of these long-ago events, she states that Ferdinand Gregor was the illegitimate son of Baron Joseph (who was a very centered and diligent man, contradicting Dr. Kolenatý's description of the man) and opera singer Ellian MacGregor. Kolenatý says that the case seems to be on the side of the Prus family, because there is no will. Emilia asks what would be required for Albert Gregor to win, and Kolenatý says the missing will. Emilia says that there is in fact a will and proceeds to describe an old cupboard in the Prus mansion where important papers were kept where he will find the document they need.

Kolenatý thinks Emilia is making up stories, but Albert insists he investigate at once and even threatens to take the case to a rival lawyer. Kolenatý leaves, and Albert tells Emilia that if he does not get the estate, he will be penniless and shoot himself. He is already infatuated with Emilia, and tries to make love to her. But Emilia, bored and indifferent, coldly refuses him. However, she asks his help in retrieving a document that will be found with the will.

Kolenatý returns with Jaroslav Prus. They found the will where Emilia said it would be, and Jaroslav congratulates Albert on his victory – if he can prove that Ferdinand Gregor was the Baron's illegitimate son. Emilia says she can prove that.

Act 2[edit]

The empty stage of the opera house

A stagehand and a cleaning woman discuss Emilia's extraordinary performance. Jaroslav enters, seeking Emilia, accompanied by his young son Janek, and Kristina.

Emilia enters, but spurns them all, including Janek, who falls under her spell, and Albert, who brings her expensive flowers. Old (and by now senile) Count Hauk-Šendorf enters, and thinks he recognizes Emilia as Eugenia Montez, a Romani woman with whom he had an affair in Andalusia half a century before. Emilia tells him Eugenia is not dead, and in Spanish, calls him by a pet name and asks him for a kiss.

All except Jaroslav leave. He demands an explanation of her strange interest in his family, and reveals that the mother of the Baron's child was recorded as Elina Makropulos, who might be the same as Ellian MacGregor, whose love letters he has read, Prus describes her as a passionate woman with probably flexible morals, to which Emilia takes offense. He continues saying that only a descendant of Ferdinand Makropoulos can claim the estate. Emilia offers to buy a mysterious document found with the will, but Jaroslav refuses and leaves. Albert returns and again pleads his love, but Emilia merely falls asleep, and Albert leaves. Janek returns, and Emilia asks him to get the document for her. Jaroslav overhears this, and orders Janek to leave, then agrees to provide the document himself if Emilia will spend the night with him.

Act 3[edit]

Emila's hotel room the next morning

Emilia and Jaroslav have spent the night together. Though Jaroslav was disappointed by Emilia's coldness, he gives her the envelope containing the document. They are informed that Janek has committed suicide due to his infatuation with Emilia. Jaroslav grieves, but Emilia is absolutely indifferent. Jaroslav hardly has time to express his anger at her reaction before Count Hauk-Šendorf enters, he has left his wife and plans to elope with Emilia to Spain. Albert, Kolenatý, and Kristina enter, with a doctor who takes Count Hauk-Šendorf away. Kolenatý has noticed that Emilia's handwriting matches that of Ellian MacGregor and suspects her of forgery. She leaves the room to get dressed, and says that after she has had her breakfast, she will clarify everything.

The rest of the party begins to search her papers and belongings. The searchers find many documents and keepsakes, all bearing names with the initials E. M., Jaroslav says that the handwriting of Elina Makropulos (on Ferdinand's birth certificate) also matches that of Emilia.

Emilia comes back, drunk and with a pistol, but Albert disarms her. Emilia at last decides to tell the truth: she is Elina Makropulos, born in 1585, daughter of Hieronymus Makropulos, an alchemist in Emperor Rudolf II's Court, who ordered him to prepare a potion that would extend his life. When it was ready, the Emperor ordered his alchemist to test it on her. She fell into a coma, and Hieronymus was sent to prison. After a week, Elina woke up and fled with the formula, and now she has lived an itinerant life for three centuries, becoming one of the best singers of all time. To conceal her longevity, she has assumed many identities: Eugenia Montez, Ekaterina Myshkin, Ellian McGregor, and others. She confided her secret to Baron Joseph and gave him the formula, which he attached to his will for his son.

The potion is finally wearing off. Elina wanted the formula to gain another 300 years of life. As the potion wears off and the first signs of old age appear on her face, they come to believe her. Elina has realized that perpetual youth has led her to exhausted apathy and resolves to allow death to come naturally to her, understanding that a sense of transcendence and purpose come from a naturally short span of life. Aging rapidly before the eyes of the astonished onlookers, she offers Kristina the formula so she now can become a great artist herself, but she burns it in a candle flame. Elina expires as she recites the first words of the Lord's Prayer in Greek.

Recordings[edit]

Year Cast:
Emilia, Gregor, Kolenatý,
Vítek, Kristina, Jaroslav Prus, Janek
Conductor,
Opera House and Orchestra
Label
1959 Zdenka Hrncirova, Beno Blachut, Rudolf Asmus,
??, Milada Musilová, Theodor Srubar, Rudolf Vonásek
Jaroslav Vogel,
Prague National Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
LP: Supraphon. Excerpts only: Act 1 fig. 102 to end;
Act 2 fig. 9 to fig. 25; Act 3, fig. 112 to end.
1966 Libuse Prylova, Ivo Žídek, Karel Berman,
Rudolf Vonasek, Helena Tattermuschová, Přemysl Kočí, Viktor Koci
Bohumil Grégor,
Prague National Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
LP and Audio CD:
Supraphon
1978 Elisabeth Söderström, Peter Dvorský, Dalibor Jedlička,
Vladimír Krejčík, Anna Czaková, Václav Zítek, Zdeněk Švehla
Sir Charles Mackerras,
Wiener Staatsopernchor (chorus master: Helmuth Froschauer), Wiener Philharmoniker
LP and Audio CD:
Decca
1989 Stephanie Sundine, Graham Clark, Robert Orth,
Richard Margison, Kathleen Brett, Cornelius Opthof, Benoit Boutet
Berislav Klobučar, conductor,
Canadian Opera Company, Lotfi Mansouri (stage director)
VHS Video: Pickwick Video
1995 Anja Silja, Kim Begley, Andrew Shore,
Anthony Roden, Manuela Kriscak, Victor Braun, Christopher Ventris
London Philharmonic Orchestra, Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
Glyndebourne Festival
Nikolaus Lehnhoff (stage director)
VHS & DVD: Warner Music Vision
2001 Gabriela Beňačková, Roman Sadnik, Jan Hladík,
Zdeněk Šmukař, Monika Brychtová, Pavel Kamas, Zoltán Korda
Oliver von Dohnányi,
Brno National Theatre Chorus and Orchestra
TV coverage CD
Czech Television, director Tomáš Šimerda
2007 Cheryl Barker, Robert Brubaker, Neal Davies,
John Graham-Hall, Elena Xanthoudakis, John Wegner, Thomas Walker
English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor
CD: Chandos
(sung in English)[7]
2012 Angela Denoke, Raymond Very, Jochen Schmeckenbecher,
Peter Hoare, Jurgita Adamonyte, Johan Reuter, Ales Briscein
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor
Christoph Marthaler (stage director)
DVD: C-Major Entertainment[8]

Arrangements[edit]

  1. Arrangement suitable for: Opera
    • arrangement for: symphonic synthesis
    • arrangement by: José Serebrier
    • performed by: Brno State Philharmonic Orchestra, co José Serebrier
  2. Arrangement suitable for: Opera
    • arrangement for: orchestral suite from the opera
    • arrangement by: Peter Breiner
    • performed by: New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, co Peter Breiner

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kenneth Furie (1995-12-24). "A Woman Skips Across 3 Centuries, Maintaining Her Ability to Enchant". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  2. ^ Harold C Schonberg (1966-11-21). "Janacek in San Francisco; 'The Makropulos Case' Has U.S. Premiere - Striking Work Is Taken From Play by Capek". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  3. ^ Harold C Schonberg (1967-12-13). "'Makropulos Case'; Janacek Work Is Heard Here for First Time". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  4. ^ Randy Kennedy (1996-01-06). "Met Tenor Is Stricken Ill Onstage And Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  5. ^ Lynette Holloway (1996-01-07). "Richard Versalle, 63, Met Tenor, Dies After Fall in a Performance". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  6. ^ Tim Ashley (2016-08-21). "The Makropulos Affair review – Karita Mattila's diva glows with breathtaking opulence". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  7. ^ Tim Ashley (2007-02-23). "Janacek: The Makropulos Case, Barker/ Brubaker/ Wegner/ Chorus and Orchestra of English National Opera/ Mackerras". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 
  8. ^ Tim Ashley (2012-12-13). "Janáček: The Makropulos Case – DVD review". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-08-23. 

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]