It’s perhaps odd that somebody like me, who got into Janáček’s music as a teenager, should have taken so long to discover his operas but I’m so glad I did. The latest discovery is Věk Makropulos in a 2011 recording from the Groβes Festspielhaus in Salzburg with Angela Denoke as the 337 year old diva Emilia Marty. It’s a strange work dramatically; a sort of fantastic detective story. Apparently it’s based on a comedy (by Karel Čapek, the guy who coined the modern meaning of “robot”) though how it got from a comedy to the opera is a bit of a mystery. It’s weird, compelling and creepy but not at all funny. It also has a terrific score.
The production by Christoph Marthaler uses a very wide stage set with a courtroom in the centre and a glass cube and a waiting room on the flanks. The side areas appear to be being used for some sort of commentary on the main stage action but it’s very hard to tell on the video recording. Each act starts with a silent prelude though the first one has surtitled dialogue. It’s the most important one and sets out the basic idea of the production “what if one could live for three hundred years”. The silent commentary aside the action is played out in a fairly straightforward, though never dull, way placing the principal burden for carrying the story on Miss Denoke’s singing and acting skills which are first class. She gets excellent support from the principal men; Raymond Very as Albert Gregor, Johan Reuter as Jaroslav Prus, Jochen Schmeckenbecker as the lawyer Kolenatý and a rather brilliant cameo by Ryland Davies as the elderly Hauk-Šendorf. Esa-Pekka Salonen directs the Vienna Philharmonic in a really compelling account of the very complex and beautiful score.
Video direction is by Hannes Rossacher and I think he makes a pretty good job of filming a very difficult production to film. The set is very wide and there appears to be almost continuous action on both wings. He can’t possibly show it all but we do get a pretty good general idea of what’s going on. He’s helped by the 1080i 16:9 picture which has plenty of detail. The DTS-HD MA surround sound also does justice to the sumptuous orchestral playing and the excellent singing. There are English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean subtitles and a trilingual booklet with a useful short essay and plot synthesis. The only extras on the disk are trailers which is a pity as this is a work and a production that could use an interview with the director.
Once again, the images aren’t screencaps but scrounged from around the web.