Makropulos Case at ENO – synopsis
Composer and librettist
Music: Leos Janácek|Lyrics: Leos Janácek after a play by Karel Capek, Vec Makropulos.
First performance: Brno 18 December 1926. Seen the performance: 6.7.2006 English National Opera, ENO -London
|Conductor: Alexander Briger|Director: Christopher Alden|Set design: Charles Edwards|Costume: Sue Willmington|Lightdesign: Adam Silverman|Choreografi: Clair Glaskin|Dramaturg:Peter Littlefield|Chorusmaster: Martin Merry|
Role, Voicetype and Singers
|Emilia Marty||soprano||Cheryl Barker|
|Albert Gregor||tenor||Robert Brubaker|
|Jaroslav Prus||baritone||John Wegner|
|Cleaning woman||mezzosoprano||Kathleen Wilkinson|
|Stage technician||bass||Graeme Danby|
The action of the opera takes place in Prague in the 1920s. In 1585 a daughter, Elina, was born to Hieronymus Makropulos, the Cretan court physician to the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II. The Emperor, obsessed with alchemy and magic potions, commissioned Makropulos to find him an elixir of eternal life. Fearing poison, the Emperor forced the physician first to try it on his own daughter Elina. For a week she lay in a coma but, although she recovered, the efficacy of the potion was naturally impossible to prove. The physician was imprisoned and his daughter fled Prague with the formula to start a series of new lives. Every generation she changed her name, but throughout her extended life she has retained the same initials: E. M.
Act One A room in Dr Kolenatý’s chambers
The outcome is expected today of the century-old case of Gregor versus Prus. Baron Josef Ferdinand (‘Pepi’) Prus died intestate in 1827, and his valuable estate passed to a cousin. Soon after it was claimed by one Ferdinand Gregor, and it has been contested by both families ever since. It now seems that Albert Gregor’s inability to supply convincing written proof of his claim will finally give the estate to his rival, Jaroslav Prus. All this is changed by the arrival in Prague of the famous opera singer, Emilia Marty. Her uncanny knowledge of past events concerning the Scottish singer Elian MacGregor, Pepi’s mistress, reopens the case. She describes the whereabouts of Pepi’s long-missing will, and Kolenatý is sent to look for it. Left alone with Marty, Gregor becomes bewitched by her and fascinated by her revelations. She demands that he give her the Greek document which is among the old Baron’s papers, but he pleads ignorance of any such paper. Kolenatý returns with Jaroslav Prus: they have found the will, together with some letters and a document written in Greek. But the will mentions only a son called Ferdinand, and gives no surname. Prus insists that more evidence is required to prove that Ferdinand was in fact the son of Pepi and Elian MacGregor. Marty offers to provide it.
Act Two The opera house, after a performance
Following her triumphant performance at the opera, Marty continues to use her spell-binding power to destroy the other characters. She fascinates not only Gregor but the young singer Kristina and Prus’s son Janek, her tongue-tied boyfriend. The group of admirers is joined by the demented Hauk-Šendorf, who recalls passionate memories from the past. Marty, who has insulted everyone else, embraces the elderly man. It gradually becomes clear that Marty’s real object is not to help Gregor win his case, but the recovery of an old Greek document which contains the formula of the potion which grants three hundred years of existence. For the first time in her life she is experiencing the onset of age. In a private encounter with Marty, Prus reveals to her that not only does he have the Greek document she seeks, but also that he has learned that in the parish register Ferdinand’s surname is given as Makropulos. The estate and, of course, the Greek document will remain in the Prus family until a Makropulos comes forward to claim them.