Věc Macropulos

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VěE MAKROPULOS

aka: The Makropulos Case

Libretto: Leos Janáček

First Produced: National Theater Brno, 1926

Present Company: Salzburg Festival 2011

Director: Christoph Marthaler

Sets & Costumes: Anna Viebrock

Video Director: Hannes Rossacher

Orchestra: Vienna Philharmonic

Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen

 

Cast:

Emilia Marty: Angela Denoke

Albert Gregor: Raymond Very

Vitek: Peter Hoare

Krista: Jurgita Adamonyté

Jaroslav Prus: Johan Reuter

Janek: Aleš Briscein

Dr. Kolenaty: Jochen Schmeckenbecher

A Scottish Maid: Linda Ormiston

A Conscientious Objector: Peter Lobert


Specs:

Resolution: 1080i

Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1

Disc size: BD-50

Opera: 32.80 GB

Bit Rate: High-Mod (avg: 32.5 Mbps)

Czech DTS-HD MA 5.1

Czech PCM 2.0 stereo

Subtitles:

English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese & Korean

Region: All

Opera runtime: 117 minutes

Cmajor / Unitel Classica 2012

 

Grade

Conception & Staging: A

Costumes: A-

Casting: A

Singing: A

Orchestra: A

Music Direction: A

Video Direction: A-

Image: A-

Audio: A-

Extras Features: D

Recommendation: A-


 

Comment

After Antonín Dvořák, Leos Janáček is the most well-known Czech composer outside his own country.  Unlike his more famous countryman, however, Janáček did not speak in a convenient musical language.  Colorful, dynamic, angular, sensuous, but not what we think of tuneful.  Where Dvořák is the consummate melodist, Janáček is articulate, declamatory.  Like the music of the Hnngarians Bartók and Kodály, unique.  Most known in the west for his festive, brassy Sinfonietta, his operas is purely musical terms are more remote, the later ones especially, like The Cunning Little Vixen and The House of the Dead, are set in unfamiliar worlds, and, like Věc Macropulos are concerned with unorthodox story lines.


        


Written between 1923-25, and begun a year after the play by Karel Čapek upon which it is based opened in Prague, Věc Macropulos was the penultimate opera by the Czech composer Leos Janáček.  To make certain that the audience sees it as a comedy, Christoph Marthaler opens the opera without music. . . and not just without music, but with two characters speaking to each other in a glass-enclosed soundproof room - their dialogue known to us only through the supratitles (or, in our case, subtitles.)  This is Marthaler’s own invention, as this conversation, more or less, is designated by the composer for two other singing characters rather than for mutes who appear throughout the opera engaged in sideshows of their own.  One of these is a 20-minute pantomime at stage far right where a huge man repeatedly brings an endless variety of flowers to a diminutive old woman. It’s déjà vu all over again.


        


Humerous as this scene and others that play in the background are, they shadow and in their curious way comment on the action in the center ring: a court case that has already gone on for one hundred years involving contesting heirs to an inheritance, and a woman, Emilia Marty (Angela Denoke), who enters seemingly by chance to become of central importance to the others involved in the case and who claims to be over 300 years old.


No, Věc Macropulos is not the stuff of science fiction, but a dramatization of the question about the usefulness of a prolonged life. Vampire lore is ripe with this question, as was the Star Trek episode Requiem for Methuselah.  Indeed Emilia Marty is tired of her detached life. Others find her strangely compelling, yet cold as ice.  She is the superstar of her age, and all that comes with it.


        


While Angela Denoke is fantabulous as E.M. her supporting cast is very good indeed - as singers and actors.  They all look, act and sing their parts, and they all exist in the same universe.  There is a considerable amount of anxious energy in the room to contrast with Emilia’s cool glare and withholding temperament.  The reliable Vienna Philharmonic is ably commanded by an impassioned Essa-Pekka Salonen.  Anna Viebrock’s Kafka-esque sets turns a 3-act opera into a single stage piece in three seamless scenes.  There is hardly a moment where our attention is not rewarded.


Video:

I counted four instances of brief moments of motion judder that grab out attention for a moment only because, aside from what amounts to five seconds of the entire opera, the remainder is transferred with such care.  Color and contrast is about perfect.  Blacks are deep, highlights rarely wash out. Near noiseless shadows have just enough detail to see what is going on the wings. The light in the orchestra and around the conductor is less inviting, but is of little concern anyhow.  In any case we don’t dally there for long.


        


Audio:

The opera is sung in Czech and delivered on the Blu-ray on DTS-HD MA 5.1 or PCM 2.0 stereo. Both are very good.  I opted for the surround mix, checking on the 2.0 from time to time.  The 5.1 allows for excellent balances between stage and the pit, with voices projecting as would be heard from the mid-orchestra seats.  All voices are crystal clear, while anyone at extreme upstage sounding distant indeed.  Denoke comes off best - a voluptuous sound, with nary so much as a hint of screech, rarely heard on Blu-opera.  The Vienna Phil is heard with plenty of texture, reasonable fullness, considering their being miked from a pit.  I don’t get the sense of an LFE channel, but it doesn’t seem to get in the way either.  I was especially pleased with the director’s decision to not place instruments of the orchestra to the sides and rear.


Interestingly, at times the camera pulls back far enough to see clearly the supratitles at either end of the frame in English and German.  The subtitles on the disc are roughly the same as those which the audience sees, though not always at the same time.  Near the end of the opera “Věc Macropulos” is translated as [the] “Makropulos Thing” in both places, which, while literal, feels a bit jarring, as if they mean to say [the] “Makropulos Makropulos Thingy” but don’t have the nerve to go that far.  I agree with the libretto published by Decca for their 1979 recording with Söderström and Mackerras: [the] “Makropulos Secret.”  On the other hand, the title on the LP cover says “The Makropulos Case,” a title that the opera is commonly known as in English-speaking venues.


        


You may find the timing for this production listed in various sources as 135 minutes.  It isn’t.  It’s just under 117 minutes.  There are no bonus features on the disc.  Cmajor does, however, include a 16-page booklet with an 2-page essay about this production “Der Alptraum vom ewigen Leben” (“The Nightmare of Eternal Life”) in German and French only plus a Synopsis in German, French and English.


Despite the absence of Bonus Features and the very occasional motion judder mishap, this production from the 2011 Salzburg Festival and Cmajor Blu-ray transfer of Věc Macropulos is a work you will likely return to for the next three hundred years.  Recommended.



Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

April 25, 2012



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