Leoš Janáček The Makropulos Case
Of all Janáček’s mature operas, The Makropulos Case is, perhaps, the strangest. Nevertheless, the composer’s ability to transform the most unlikely material turned this verbose wrangle over an obscure legal case, initiated by a woman over 300 years old, into a searing meditation on the way in which death gives meaning to life. Much of the libretto is marked by verbiage, but the last 15 minutes of this ‘front-loaded’ opera are astonishingly moving.
Christoph Marthaler’s production begins rather heavy-handedly with two cleaners, smoking in a ‘sin bin’, musing on the futility of life and the potential of eugenics. These pantomimes – apparently designed to restore something of the ‘light-hearted’ tone of Karel ∫apek’s comedy on which the opera is based – at the start of each act are tiresome distractions, but luckily they are swept aside by Salonen’s magnificent conducting. His reading is a near-perfect blend of frenetic energy and sustained emotional breadth.
The vocal performances are nearly all compelling. The men – Janáček’s usual weak and neurotic bunch – are entirely believable, with Jochen Schmeckenbecher and Johan Reuter particularly convincing as Kolenat´y and Jaroslav Prus respectively; the only exception is Ryland Davies’s Hauk-Šendorf which, in this company, seems curiously underplayed. Both the lead female roles are remarkably complete. Jurgita Adamonyté as the starry-eyed Krista, delivers abundant ravishing tone, and Angela Denoke is an utterly credible Marty: commanding, elegantly seductive and exuding a poignantly believable world weariness. The staging, from 2011’s Salzburg Festival, is well filmed and recorded, and in general the drama moves with assurance. But the end is a major disappointment: its theatrical climax simply doesn’t match up to the shattering musical performance.