Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Věc Makropulos – Salzburg 2011 (Part 2: Everything Old is New Again)

This Salzburg production, staged by Christoph Marthaler, definitely falls into the Regieoper category. There is a lot of sub-textual action on the sidelines, especially in acts 2 & 3.  The action doesn’t literally mirror the plot, but abstractly represents Emilia’s long life.  

The entire opera takes place on a single set. On stage right is a glass-enclosed break room.  The area on stage left looks like an airport waiting area. The main playing area is a courtroom, as the plot turns around a court case (although a courtroom is not specified in the libretto.) In fact, the set makes it a little difficult to figure out where we are. Act 1 is in a law office, Act 2 in the theater (I totally missed that the first time), and Act 3 is in a hotel room. One does wonder what all these extra people are doing in Emilia’s hotel room!
Although the original play is a comedy, Janáček managed to remove most of the humor in the course of adapting the text for his opera.  Marthaler has restored some material from the original play as a prologue, to establish the question of whether or not people should live for 300 years.  
Marthaler has also created action that comments on the many lives of Emilia Marty. On stage right, during Acts 2 and 3, two bits occur (and recur) involving an orderly, an elderly woman, and some flowers. At the beginning of Act 3, a courtroom full of people—judges, jury, spectators—files in, then out, then in, then out, multiple times before the music starts, to represent years of litigation.
The overall effect of the symbolic movement was probably a lot more effective in the theater, since most of this action takes place simultaneously with the opera.  There the viewer could take in all the action at once, or at least decide for him/herself where to focus. 

Since Janáček effectively removed the comedy from the story, these repetitive regie bits are about the only overtly humorous elements in the opera.  Well, there is one point when Baron Prus tells Emilia that his son Janek killed himself for her. She basically says, “So what? Lots of men do!” which is actually a funny line. However the humor is overshadowed by what is really a mystery/thriller.

After learning of Janek’s suicide, Emilia moves to the airport lounge to spend a few moments with him. (He reappears with an impossible bullet wound in his forehead) It’s almost as if she envies him for his ability to die.

Here is Act 1 of The Makropulos Affair:

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this review: Give Me Alchemy or Give Me Death 

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