Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

Los Angeles Opera Opens with La traviata

On September 13, Los Angeles Opera opened its 2014-2015 season with a revival of Marta Domingo’s updated, Art Deco staging of Giuseppe Verdi’s La traviata. It starred Nino Machaidze as Violetta, Arturo Chácon-Cruz as Alfredo, and Plácido Domingo as Giorgio Germont. The conductor was Music Director James Conlon.

Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park, 2014

In its annual concert previewing the forthcoming season Lyric Opera of Chicago presented its “Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park” during the past weekend to a large audience of enthusiastic listeners.

Susannah in San Francisco

Come to think of it the 1950‘s were operatically rich years in America compared to other decades in the recent past. Just now the San Francisco Opera laid bare an example, Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah.

Xerxes, ENO

Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes (Serse) at English National Opera (ENO) is nearly 30 years old, and is the oldest production in ENO’s stable.

San Diego Opera Opens 2014-2015 Season

On Friday evening September 5, 2014, tenor Stephen Costello and soprano Ailyn Pérez gave a recital to open the San Diego Opera season. After all the threats to close the company down, it was a great joy to great San Diego Opera in its new vibrant, if slightly slimmed down form.

Otello at ENO

English National Opera’s 2014-15 season kicked off with an ear-piercing orchestral thunderbolt. Brilliant lightning spears sliced through the thick black night, fitfully illuminating the Mediterranean garret-town square where an expectant crowd gather to welcome home their conquering hero.

Anna Nicole, back with a bang!

It is now three and a half years since Anna Nicole was unleashed on the world at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Norma in San Francisco

It was a Druid orgy that overtook the War Memorial. Magnificent singing, revelatory conducting, off-the-wall staging (a compliment, sort of).

Joyce DiDonato starts Wigmore Hall new season

There was a quasi-party atmosphere at the Wigmore Hall on Monday evening, when Joyce DiDonato and Antonio Pappano reprised the recital that had kicked off the Hall’s 2014-15 season with reported panache and vim two nights previously. It was standing room only, and although this was a repeat performance there certainly was no lack of freshness and spontaneity: both the American mezzo-soprano and her accompanist know how to communicate and entertain.

Aida at Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival

In strict architectural terms, the stupendous 2nd century Roman theatre of Aspendos near Antalya in southern Turkey is not an arena or amphitheatre at all, so there are not nearly as many ghosts of gored gladiators or dismembered Christians to disturb the contemporary feng shui as in other ancient loci of Imperial amusement.

St Matthew Passion, Prom 66

Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra brought their staging of Bach's St Matthew Passion to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall on Saturday, 6 September 2014.

Glimmerglass: Butterfly Leads the Pack

Every so often an opera fan is treated to a minor miracle, a revelatory performance of a familiar favorite that immediately sweeps all other versions before it.

Operalia, the World Opera Competition, Showcases 2014 Winners

On August 30, Los Angeles Opera presented the finals concert of Plácido Domingo’s Operalia, the world opera competition. Founded in 1993, the contest endeavors to discover and help launch the careers of the most promising young opera singers of today. Thousands of applicants send in recordings from which forty singers are chosen to perform live in the city where the contest is being held. Last year it was Verona, Italy, this year Los Angeles, next year London.

Elektra at Prom 59

The second day of the Richard Strauss weekend at the BBC Proms saw Richard Strauss's Elektra performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 31 August 2014 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Semyon Bychkov, with Christine Goerke in the title role.

Powerful Mahler Symphony no 2 Harding, BBC Proms London

Triumphant! An exceptionally stimulating Mahler Symphony No 2 from Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, BBC Prom 57 at the Royal Albert Hall. Harding's Mahler Tenth performances (especially with the Berliner Philharmoniker) are pretty much the benchmark by which all other performances are assessed. Harding's Mahler Second is informed by such an intuitive insight into the whole traverse of the composer's work that, should he get around to doing all ten together, he'll fulfil the long-held dream of "One Grand Symphony", all ten symphonies understood as a coherent progression of developing ideas.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Amanda Roocroft as Emilia Marty [Photo by Neil Libbert courtesy of English National Opera]
23 Sep 2010

The Makropulos Case at ENO

In their programme note, Christopher Alden and Peter Littlefield explain the concept which informs this dark, dystopian production of Janáček’s penultimate opera, The Makropulos Case — a production first seen at ENO in 2004:

Leoš Janáček: The Makropulos Case

Emilia Marty: Amanda Roocroft; Dr Kolenatý: Andrew Shore; Albert Gregor: Peter Hoare; Vitek: Alasdair Elliott; Kristina: Laura Mitchell; Jaroslav Prus: Ashley Holland; Janek: Christopher Turner; Hauk-Šendorf: Ryland Davies; Cleaning Woman: Morag Boyle; Stage Technician: William Robert Allenby; Chambermaid: Susanna Tudor-Thomas. Conductor: Richard Armstrong. Director: Christopher Alden. Set designer: Charles Edwards. Costume designer: Sue Willmington. Lighting designer: Adam Silverman. Choreographer: Clare Glaskin. English Nation Opera, Coliseum, London. Monday 20th September 2010.

Above: Amanda Roocroft as Emilia Marty

All photos by Neil Libbert courtesy of English National Opera

 

“The Makropulos formula is a powerful metaphor for a fixation … The moment Elina drinks it, she becomes an outlaw … But the story of The Makropulos Case is not simply a personal one. It extends to an idea about society’s rigid, collective destructiveness. Karel Čapek and Leoš Janáček lived in a time of agonizing transition. For them the 327-year old E. M. embodied the unwillingness of the past to give way to the present. She stands for a society living beyond its moment.”

Charles Edwards’ striking set designs certainly capture this conception; evoking the grim austerity of the pre-war Eastern Block, the single set serves as lawyer’s office, theatre and boudoir, its forbidding monochrome tones alleviated solely by the copious flowers which decorate the Act 2 stage, offered in adulation by Emilia Marty’s chorus of idolising worshippers. But, this ‘abstract’ and emblematic reading, is a long way from Karel Čapek’s original philosophical comedy, from which Janáček constructed his own libretto. And, while its certainly true that the music considerably darkens the hues of Čapek’s social satire and irony, this extraordinary opera surely remains at core a very human drama, not least because the tale of obsession and passion seems permeated by the aging composer’s own unrequited love for the young Kamilla Stösslova.

Man’s helplessness in the face of the inevitable and irrevocable passing of time is a powerful theme in the work, and one which here is visually reinforced by the interminable rise of the curtain in Act 1, the protracted turning of the large wall-clock’s hands, and the legal clerks’ leisurely gathering of the documents which flutter from the ceiling, falling in scattered heaps which emphasise the convoluted, ceaseless complexities of the eponymous law suit. Alden and Edwards — with their over-sized black desk and leather chair, and the flurry of annotations strewn across the blackboard which looms on the office wall — have sought to recreate an ambience of Kafkaesque menace and ambiguity, as the action lurches between stagnation and frenzied confusion.

Indeed, such conflicts of tempo are built into the score, which swings between static, fragmentary ostinatos and sudden orchestral outbursts; however, underpinning the staggers and sways, is a steadily accumulating rhythmic tension as the minutes of E.M.’s life tick unstoppably by.

Amanda Roocroft, tackling the role for the first time, was a cold, calculating Elina Makropulos in her latest incarnation as the opera star, Emilia Marty. Passionless and solipsistic, Roocroft’s stylised expressionist gestures recalled the faux agonies of a Twenties starlet of the silent screen. A convincingly cruel and callous femme fatale, it is not entirely evident, however, why she should be so hypnotically alluring to all men. Marching briskly about the stage, Roocroft conveyed Elina’s nervous energy but somewhat lacked voluptuous allure. Roocroft took a little time to settle, not quite finding the requisite opulent sensuousness in opening Act; moreover, her diction lacked clarity (although the translation did not always merit better – ill-judged comic one-liners and anachronistic phrases such as ‘Cor blimey’ hardly seemed in keeping with Alden’s and Edwards’ focused period vision). As the opera progressed, warmth and depth increasingly characterised her tone, and Roocroft released a soaring soprano of considerable beauty and power in the final act, as Elina recalls and is humanised by her love for Pepi, the man whose actions have given rise to the epic law case which has controlled and consumed so many lives. Her desperate attempts to shake the elixir formula from her hands was harrowing; obsessed with life, she now recognised that she has nothing to live for — the terrible admission of her final confession.

The_Makropulos_Case_02.gifAmanda Roocroft as Emilia Marty and Christopher Turner as Janek

Roocroft was partnered by a team of excellent male leads. Peter Hoare’s traumatiseGregor was superbly projected; a distressing portrait of exposed vulnerability and intense passion, his anguished appeals and anger conveyed the tortuous contradictions within all the men who want both to possess and destroy Elina. Janáček’s score skilfully delineates a rich array of character parts: strong performances by Andrew Shore, as a fussy Dr Kolenatý, and Ashley Holland, as a muscular Prus, were matched by the touching tenderness of Laura Mitchell’s Kristina and Christopher Turner’s tense, nervous Janek. Ryland Davies’s Hauk was a little weak in tone, but his portrayal of Marty’s feeble-minded former lover was theatrically effective, and his duet with Roocroft powerfully conveyed the pathos of Marty’s surge of affection for this aged former lover in Act 2.

Under the accomplished baton of Janáček specialist Richard Armstrong, the ENO orchestra evocatively accompanied and commented on the stage action. Armstrong emphasised the extreme contrasts of register and colour, percussive bitterness alternating with tender lyricism. Initially, some of textures lacked precise definition, particularly in the more conversational vocal passages, where a sense of driving energy was not always maintained; and perhaps the dramatic instrumental interjections could have been even more astringent and discomforting. But, the explosive third climax was wonderfully controlled.

The_Makropulos_Case_01.gifAmanda Roocroft as Emilia Marty, Andrew Shore as Dr Kolenatý, Alasdair Elliot as Vitek and Laura Mitchell as Kristina

Despite the undeniable affective power of this production, my difficulty with this reading of the opera lies in Alden’s apparent lack of sympathy for the essential ‘human’ aspects of the work. He envisages Elina as possessing “the soul of a traumatized sixteen-year-old girl in the body of powerful, indomitable woman”. Yet, surely her experiences over three hundred years would have enabled her to learn, grow, and achieve a more mature understanding of both herself and others? Alden essentially deprives Elina of her status as a tragic heroine; he focuses instead on creating a mechanistic vision of a 1920s dystopia – a reflection of Janáček’s contemporary Prague perhaps – but while the result is visually striking, he overlooks the fact that the preoccupations of drama are shared by all men at all times and in all places. The steely lifelessness of Adam Silverman’s intimidating lighting and the grey hardness of Edwards’ monumental designs is matched by the emotional vacuum within these pallid characters. Ultimately, they do not arouse our pity; in Marty’s case we may share Prus’ post-coital disgust at her barrenness and callousness — as, draped like a corpse, she seems brutalised by life’s experiences.

Harrowing indeed; but the orchestral richness, complemented by sudden swathes of light, as Marty embraces death surely intimate her ultimate recognition of the true value of human life, a realisation which is both edifying and uplifting? After, Janáček’s emotionally charged opera pointedly reminds us that life only has value because of our awareness of our mortality.

Claire Seymour

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):