The Makropulos Case, Munich

From the House of the Dead might do likewise
for someone of a rather different disposition, sceptical of opera’s
claims and conventions.

The Makropulos Case (Věc Makropulos) perhaps
falls somewhere in between, although surely closer to the more
‘conventional’ trio, an unusual story notwithstanding. At any
rate, no Janáček opera outstays its welcome. Every one is
musically and dramatically interesting, without – save, arguably, in
the case of From the House of the Dead – being
‘difficult’ (a silly concept, anyway, but let us leave that on
one side). There are strong, central female characters in most (again, not
in his final opera, but…) And yet…

What, then, is the problem? Is it simply that the works are in Czech? Is
there still resistance to following titles, from those of us who do not
have the language? Perhaps, although how many in the audience actually have
an understanding, let alone a good one, of other, more typically-used
languages? Translation is, perhaps even more than usual, a bad idea, since
the music depends so much on Czech speech rhythms. One can tell that, even
when one does not know the language. I mention that here, since a great
virtue of this particular performance was the ability to follow the words
(with German titles). The sounds are important, but it is not just a matter
of sound. In conjunction with the orchestra, this made sense, even
for those of us having to rely upon our memories and upon the titles.

First and foremost to be thanked for that excellent, indeed crucial,
outcome must be conductor Tomáš Hanus. His direction of the
equally (at least!) excellent Bavarian State Orchestra left us in no doubt
that not only did the conductor know where he was taking us, and how to do
so, but that just the right balance was struck between the demands of the
moment, of the intricate relationships between words and music, between
vocal line and orchestra, between melodic and harmonic impulses, were being
observed and, above all, dramatically communicated. The golden sound of the
orchestra – again, perhaps, like the Czech Philharmonic in a
recent concert performance of Jenůfa
, more Bohemian than
Moravian, but none the worse for that – was no mere backdrop, but a
musico-dramatic cauldron from which words emerged and in whose
self-transforming broth they acquired their meaning and impulse. The
disjunctures were not sold short either; they held their dramatic ground,
without being fetishised.

Angela Denoke had also played E.M. – or whatever we wish to call
her – in the
Salzburg Festival performance
I heard in 2011. Dramatically,
Denoke’s performance here in Munich was at least as fine as in
Salzburg; she remains an excellent singing actress. Vocally, however, it
was, if anything, superior, with few of the occasional flaws of five years
ago. The virtues of the orchestral performance were also her virtues. So
indeed were they of the rest of the cast. Brno-born tenor, Pavel
Černoch offered an Albert Gregor of what seemed to me (again with the
caveat that I am not a Czech-speaker) of vocal beauty and verbal acuity in
equal measure, his stage presence just as impressive. His first-act
dialogue with Emilia Marty proved one of the musical and dramatic
highlights of the performance. Gustáv Beláček and Kevin
Conners impressed with their difficult legal performative briefs. John
Lundgren’s darkly ambitious Jaroslav Prus and Rachael Wilson’s
bright-toned Krista were similarly noteworthy. Aleš Briscein’s
Janek furthered the excellent impressions given in that concert
Jenůfa, his crestfallen withdrawal from the Marty game a
study in musico-dramatic observation and communication. And how wonderful
to welcome back Reiner Goldberg to the stage as Hauk-Šendorf: so much
more than a mere ‘character’ appearance. Character and artist
similarly rolled back the years: a moving moment indeed, not least given
the opera in question.

I have left Arpád Schilling’s production until last, because
I do not have much to say about it, I am afraid. The principal impression
is made by Márton Ágh’s stylish designs, both sets –
for instance, a visually arresting pile of chairs – and costumes,
Černoch’s Gregor thereby enabled to look very much as he
sounded. Of a concept, let alone a Konzept, beyond that, I
struggled to discern anything very much. This, then, is stage direction of
the kind operatic reactionaries claim to like: non-interventionist and
pretty, if a little too modern in its style for them. The work could (sort
of) speak for itself, I suppose, but that is hardly the point. Christoph
Marthaler delved deeper in Salzburg.

Mark Berry

Cast and production details:

Emilia Marty: Angela Denoke; Dr Kolenatý: Gustáv
Beláček; Vítek: Kevin Conners; Krista: Rachael Wilson;
Albert Gregor: Pavel Černoch; Jaroslav Prus: John Lundgren ; Janek:
Aleš Briscein; Hauk-Šendorf: Reiner Goldberg; Chambermaid: Deniz
Uzun; Stage Technician: Peter Lobert; Cleaning Lady: Heike Grötzinger.
Director: Arpád Schilling; Designs: Márton Ágh; Lighting:
Tamás Bányai; Dramaturgy: Miron Hakenbeck. Chorus of the Bavarian
State Opera (chorus master: Sören Eckhoff)/Bavarian State
Orchestra/Tomáš Hanus (conductor). Nationaltheater, Munich,
Saturday 21 May 2016.

image_description=Angela Denoke as Emilia Marty, Chor und Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper
product_title=The Makropulos Case, Munich
product_by=A review by Mark Berry
product_id=Above: Angela Denoke as Emilia Marty, Chor und Statisterie der Bayerischen Staatsoper