Thursday, July 26, 2012

Věc Makropulos – Salzburg 2011 (Part 3: Give Me Alchemy or Give Me Death)

In the course of Věc Makropulos, we learn that Emilia is in fact rather bored with living so long, constantly reinventing herself, and finding a new life and lover. She sings in her final aria that the relative brevity of life is what gives human existence its joys and meaning. Never-ending life seems to blur and ultimately render meaningless the differences between good and evil, happiness and sadness, and even life and death.
At the end of the story, the diva who has the power to live forever decides it’s not worth it, gives up the formula (that was devised by her alchemist father back in the 16th century), and dies. (During this final scene, on stage right, the young woman collapses. When the doctor enters, he examines the older woman; then picks her up and carries her out.)
The Vienna Philharmonic provide their usual lush support with Janáček’s colorful score under the attentive direction of Esa-Pekka Salonen. The vocal music is mostly declamatory, so it’s harder to judge the voices than it would be in a Mozart or Verdi opera. That being said, this is a strong cast. Though I do not speak Czech, they sound convincing, and most of the singers are not native Czech speakers.  This is performance I will be returning to soon.
This opera succeeds or fails on the lead soprano. I am kind of embarrassed to say this is the first I’ve heard Angela Denoke. She has strong and lovely voice, one that also serves the music of Richard Strauss well (I checked some other videos on YouTube). My one tiny quibble is visual: I have seen “chin vibrato” in many singers, but never such a pronounced “lip vibrato.” It looks weird but it doesn’t affect her sound. She portrays Emilia’s dignity, sensuality, and world-weariness beautifully. Johan Reuter is another standout voice: warm and lyrical. He is a Danish baritone, and has sung the role of Prus at the Met. I’ll be watching for more of his performances.  
I hear that Anja Silja does a wonderful portrayal of Emilia; two of her interpretations (both more “traditional” productions) are available on DVD: Glyndebourne in 2003, and with the Canadian Opera Company in 1999.
Karita Matilla is also a top interpreter of Emilia; she performed the role recently at the Met (with Johan Reuter again as Prus.) It would be wonderful for the Met to issue that performance, either on DVD or in their on-demand service.
Here is Act 3 of the Salzburg performance:

Now that I have met Emilia Marty, I look forward to sampling a more traditional production for comparison. 
For another review of this performance and other operas on DVD, click over to operaramblings.

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