Based on a play by Karel Čapek, “The Makropulos Case” revolves around the life of opera singer Emila Marty, who drank a special elixir when she was a child. The strange thing is that that happened during the time of the Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf and the concoction has allowed her to live for 300 years. At the outset of the opera, set in the 1920s, Marty is 337 years old, even though she doesn’t look a day over 30. However, she knows that her time is up and she will die unless she can get her hands on the document that contains the formula for the potion. The document was placed in a home of one of her former lovers and that estate is tied up in an interminable legal case. By the time that Marty receives the document, she realizes that her life doesn’t have any meaning and existing for another 300 years would only bring more boredom and loneliness.
Olivier Tambosi oversaw the staging of the San Francisco Opera production, which the company premiered in 2010 in a co-commision with Finnish National Opera. German soprano Nadja Michael gave a captivating performance as Marty, the ageless opera diva. She prowled on top of the lawyer’s desk and a bed mattress, daring men with her haughty beauty. Dazzling also was Michael’s opulent voice, which was mesmerizing throughout the evening.
The men who swirled about Marty were exceptional across the board. In the role of Albert Gregor, Charles Workman convincingly pled with her to love him but to no avail. Stephen Powel created a suave Baron Jaroslav Prus who nevertheless was transfixed by her. Dale Travis mixed skepticism and gravitas in his portrayal of Dr Kolenatý. Joel Sorensen’s soaring tenor fit the role of Vítek perfectly, and Brenton Ryan’s Janek conveyed a believable naiveté. In the role of Count Hauk-Šendorf, Matthew O’Neill colored his passion for Marty with a web of reverie.
Julie Adams created a convincingly naïve Kristina who was totally enthralled with the famous Marty. In lesser roles, Latvian mezzo Zanda Švēde and Brad Walker sang with distinction.
|©Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera|
The orchestra, guided by conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov conquered Janáček’s tricky score although there were a couple of shaky entrances. The offstage brass ensemble elicited the time of Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II. Overall, the music shifted wonderfully between lyricism and a propulsive dynamic thrust and is worth hearing again and again.