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Leoš Janáček [Source: Wikipedia]
12 Aug 2012

The Makropulos Case at Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh International Festival, in partnership with Opera North, presented Janáček’s The Makropulos Case at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.

Leoš Janáček: The Makropulos Case

Vitek: Mark le Broq, Albert Grego: Paul Nilon, Kristina: Stephanie Korley, Dr Kolenaty: James Cresswel, Emila Marty (E.M.): Yiva Kihlberg, Baron Prus: Robert Hayward, Cleaner: Sarah Pring, Technician: Matthew Hargreaves, Janek Prus : Adrian Dwyer, Count Hauk-Sendorf: Nigel Robson, Chambermaid: Rebecca Afonwy-Jones. Other roles: Stephen Briggs, Gabriel Keogh, Ricky Morrell, Jeremy Peaker, Arwel Price, Andrew Squires. Conductor: Richard Farnes, Director: Tom Cairns, Set and costume designer: Hildegard Bechtler, Lighting designer: Bruno Poet

Edinburgh International Festival, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, 11th August 2012

Above: Leoš Janáček [Source: Wikipedia]


The plot concerns a long-running legal dispute over inheritance where the will is missing. The case has dragged on for more than 300 years, long after the initial claimants have died. Or not, as the Case might be. The law office scene has a strong element of dramatic tension, albeit perhaps at a slow pace, and this is not unpromising for an opera. It might however perhaps seem potentially rather dry and lacking in emotional content. But the desiccation is deliberate, suggesting centuries of pointless litigation. A mysterious diva, Emilia Marty, appears in town, transfixing all males who cross her path. In addition to her spell-binding powers, she appears to have mysterious knowledge of the matters of the case, to the consternation of the male company. Played out is a contrast between masculinity and femininity; logic and intuition; the tangible and the supernatural.

Only in the final (third) act is this resolved: the mystery woman has uncanny personal knowledge of the events which others are having to piece together from documents. She is the same woman, who has been involved since the beginning, travelling through time in different incarnations under variants of her initials "E M" . She became immortal because in her youth she drank an elixir of (almost) eternal youth devised by her father, which she had given to the original testator. The recipe for the elixir had been wrapped inside the will of her long ago lover, but only she knows the location. Until now, it's been considered missing or non-existent.

Having regained the means to renew extended life, she chooses to reject it, having 'seen enough'. Eternity isn't all it's cracked up to be. In a dramatic final scene, she ages visibly on stage - lit and staged very well in this production - before expiring. The message that life is best lived out within its naturally allocated span is in fact life affirming and this enjoyable show leaves the audience walking out of the theatre on air.

The multi-talented Swedish singer Yiva Kihlberg excels in the central role of Emilia Marty in this her debut with Opera North. Her first entry onstage, dressed in a wasp-waisted suit with Margaret Thatcher-style handbag recalls not only Thatcher but a young Elizabeth Taylor - a useful analogy for the audience. A 1940s styled simple set enables the stage to become in turn a law office; backstage at a theatre and finally a hotel bedroom. It is effective without being distracting and should tour well. Paul Nilon sings a strong Albert Gregor. Mark Le Broq is also very good as Vitek, the head clerk of the law firm. Nigel Robson is delightfully raffish as Count Hauk Sendorff.

This production is thoroughly enjoyable and would in fact make a good introduction to audiences new to opera, especially those that might fear "modern" opera. Janáček's The Makropulos Case dates from 1926, so it's olderr than most patrons, unless they, too, have Emilia Marty's secret. This production was presented in English translation, and the singing was clear and easy to follow. Janáček's music is accessible and vivid, and this performance, conducted by Richard Farnes, demonstrated why this opera has become a classic. Catch it in Edinburgh if you can - there are further performances tonight and tomorrow - or on tour this autumn, details at

Juliet Williams

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