Ninety-minute voyage through life of a 300-year-old heroine
IF you've ever fancied living till you're 300, then Janacek's strangely powerful opera The Makropulos Case will make you think again.
Opera North sets its new production in the 1950s but the seeds of the story are sown three centuries before when the heroine is born and given an elixir of eternal life by her alchemist father. She has already lived several new lives before the opera starts. So if you hadn't swotted up on the plot, you would have been puzzled by who exactly Emilia Marty is, with her multitude of past identities and bewildering number of past lovers.
All the action is condensed into 90 minutes. Director Tom Cairns enables maximum fluidity and focus, locations shifting fluidly between lawyer's office, theatre backstage and hotel room. Hildegard Bechtler's design cleverly evokes the real and solid at the same time, suiting a plot which ranges through time.
Janacek's music captures the speech rhythms of his native Moravia and it was good to hear the English translation so crisply audible. Yiva Kihlberg, as Emilia, combined an imposing stage presence with the voice of a diva. Robert Hayward (Baron Prus), Paul Nilon (Albert Gregor) and James Creswell (Dr Kolenaty) made the narrative thrust of the text a top priority whilst navigating their way around some very tricky music.
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The orchestra, under the direction of conductor Richard Farnes, created the composer's highly distinctive sound world with flair and panache.