The Makropulos Case
Kihlberg, an elegant Emilia Marty in Leeds
© Robert Workman 2013
Since 1995, Opera North has slowly but steadily been working its way through a cycle of Janáček's six mature operas, and the company reached the endpoint of the sequence (it has already staged From the House of the Dead) with Tom Cairns's production of The Makropulos Case (seen Oct. 18) at the Grand Theatre, Leeds. Hildegard Bechtler's designs pushed the period forward, harmlessly, to the 1950s, by which time Ylva Kihlberg's Emilia Marty was presumably in her 360s. (The character herself seemed uncertain, perhaps understandably, as to her exact age during her interrogation in the final act.) The Swedish Kihlberg looked suave and elegant throughout the show, with something of Callas in her coiffure and stance — not a bad model to follow. Vocally, she was up to all of Janáček's demands, projecting her line confidently and with clean attack throughout her range, her approach combining the lyric and the dramatic without any false steps.
In general terms, the visuals offered no shocks or surprises, the settings as Janáček proposed them being realized, refreshingly, with straightforward intent.
James Creswell presented a businesslike, (almost) unfazed Dr. Kolenatý, his vocalism firmly founded on his rich, solidly centered bass. Paul Nilon made an eager, youthfully immature Albert Gregor, his limited coloristic range never sounding over-extended in this role. Robert Hayward's presence and baritonal authority gave him a head start as Baron Prus, a character whose propensity to bluster and bully he caught exactly. Mark Le Brocq's Vitek was crisp and even, the enthusiasm of a revolutionary underlying his well-manicured office demeanor. Stephanie Corley's impressionable Kristina, light and bright in tone, matched well with Adrian Dwyer's nervy Janek, an aptly tense vocal performance. Stealing the scenes in which he appeared was veteran Nigel Robson as the mentally fragile Hauk-Sˇendorf, a beautifully created portrayal of engaging charm and self-surprised erotic rejuvenation.
Opera North's orchestra shone under the company's music director, Richard Farnes, whose sense of the music's flow remained unimpeded throughout the huge variety of pacing and texture that marks the score's complex and eventful journey. It remains a challenging orchestral assignment, not just in terms of the technical difficulty of Janáček's individual parts but in the balancing of the various departments of the orchestra as musical interest ebbs and flows among them. Farnes proved a masterly negotiator of this aspect of his duties, as he was also of the work's dramatic momentum as a whole, and he seemed to sweep the players along with him in his evident enthusiasm for his task.
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