Janáček: Věc Makropulos [Salzburg Festival/Solonen] Blu-ray Review
- Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
- Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
- Resolution: 1080i/60
- Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
- Region: ABC (Region-Free)
- Rating: Not Rated
- Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
- Studio: C Major
- Blu-ray Release Date: May 29, 2011
- List Price: $39.99
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Eternal life is not always what it’s cracked up to be or so goes the principal argument of Leoš Janáček’s Věc Makropulos, (The Makropulos Affair). This is a mature work, completed near the end of Janáček’s life, based on a comedy by famed Czech playwright Karel Capek. The back story involves an event occurring centuries before the present action in which the Emperor Rudolf II ordered his physician, Makropulos, to make a life-extending elixir. The physician tries the drug out on his daughter Elina who survives its initial effects and is now over 300 years old as the opera begin. Elina has now assumed the identity of Emilia Marty (soprano Angela Denoke), a renowned opera diva. The plot involves the resolution of an old legal affair in which Albert Gregor (tenor Raymond Very) claims to be the heir of the deceased Baron Prus, a claim contested by his descendant Jaroslav Prus ( baritone Johan Reuter). Since Marty knows the truth, i.e., in a previous life as Ellian MacGregor she was the mother of Gregor’s ancestors, she agrees to help resolve the case. Her real motive is to find some ancient papers that contain the formula for the Makropulos miracle potion. Eventually, Marty is recognized by an old lover, Baron Hauk-Sendorf (tenor Ryland Davies). Marty reveals her identity to all concerned, and decides that she has lived long enough. Once the document containing the formula is produced, she requests that her young protégé, Krista (soprano Jurgita Adamonyte), destroy it. As the opera ends, Marty rapidly ages and dies.
This BD performance was recorded at the 2011 Salzburg Festival with Esa-Pekka Salonen leading the Wiener Philharmoniker. The sparse, modern staging was designed by Christoph Marthaler. Although Věc Makropulos is a relatively rarely performed work today, this is a pity since it has a rich chromatic score and dramatic libretto. The cast and orchestra are extremely strong and deliver as good a rendering of this unusual work as it is likely to get in today’s opera houses.
The monochromatic set with its courtroom in the middle, and two glass display cases on either side that act as commentary on the proceedings, underscoring the banality and artificiality of temporal existence. As the opera itself is a fantasy, reducing the set to static objects does not undermine the action and avoids getting in the way of the singing and acting. Color and detail are fine but there is a very occasional motion artifact. Emilia Marty’s off-red wig contrasts sharply with her finely tailored clothes, creating a striking stage image. Given the number of close up shots, the make up department definitely gets many snaps.
The soundstage is very much upfront with a touch hall ambience. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is still preferable to the PCM 2.0 version and does a better job with voice placement. Maestro Salonen does a superb job with his orchestral forces, resisting the common impulse with Janacek’s potent score to overwhelm the singers on stage.
C Major, not known to be generous with extras, comes up with literally nothing here.
The Definitive Word
The starting point for Věc Makropulos is a fable whose moral is: be careful what you wish for because you might get it. Here, what you did not wish for is the gift of eternal life, ultimately a curse rather than blessing for Emilia Marty AKA Elina Makropulos. The brilliance of this opera really hinges on the ability of the lead soprano, in this case, Angela Denoke, to create a credible portrayal of a 337 year old diva, a “killer” role if there ever was one. Mme Denoke has the good fortune to be surrounded by a top-notch supporting cast with nary a weak link. I was particularly taken with the small but essential contribution of tenor Ryland Davies who at 68 delivers a brilliant portrayal of Baron Hauk-Sendorf, one of the previous Marty lovers. One might quibble with the stage director’s set concept but, unlike some of the reinventions of classic operas, this does not interfere with the white-hot stage drama that is Věc Makropulos.
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