Music &Lyrics: Leos Janacek
Director: Tom Cairns
Conductor: Richard Farnes
Reviewer: Iain Sykes
Legal proceedings, intrigue, virtual immortality, and a talented diva all seem unlikely subject for opera but in Leos Janacek’s The Makropulos Case, based on Karel Capek’s 1922 play of the same name, they combine perfectly into an opera which starts in a dull legal office and builds to great proportions as things are revealed not to be as straightforward as they originally seem.
Opera North’s excellent production of this piece owes a lot to the fantastic casting of Ylva Kihlberg in the leading rôle of opera star, Emilia Marty. Siren like, she glamorously dominates every scene, at first calculatingly cold towards all her male admirers then touching and tender in an epic Act Three where she reveals the secrets of her long life and revels in her release from it in a beautiful finale. The whole cast deserve the highest plaudits. The most sparkling cameo from Nigel Robson as Count Hauk-Sedorf, the aging lover of a woman he assumed to be long gone, with the wicked sparkle in his eye brings true joy to an opera filled with the most sublime cynical dark humour. Paul Nilon’s Albert Gregor is another joy to behold, endearingly bumbling his way through the legal case and his attempts to woo Emilia. Robert Hayward captures the very essence of noble entitlement with more than a hint of the underhanded schemer about him. Stephanie Corley as Kristina and Adrian Dwyer as the ill fated Janek provide the young love interest in contrast to the cynicism of the leading characters.
Opera North’s orchestra under the baton of Richard Farnes brings out the best of Janacek’s very dark, very minimalist score. The English translation of the work is used here, allowing the dry, black fantasy humour to work its spell on the Lowry’s audience.
The detailed set, with Hildegard Bechtler’s design and Bruno Poet’s atmospheric lighting works in harmony with the opera. From Act One’s office, packed high with legal files, through the backstage area of an opera house with sumptuous red sofa, to the final, moving scenes in Emilia Marty’s hotel room, the bed draped in white material, the whole effect is one of great vision.
The Makropulos Case is an opera of the darkest humour and Opera North’s sharp production brings out every single aspect of this. A sharp, witty production with a top class cast, Opera North’s great orchestra all played out on a simply detailed set is what is presented here. It would be hard to find a better production even if you lived for three hundred years.