Leos Janácek: The Makropulos Affair
Angela Denoke (Emilia Marty), Raymond Very (Albert Gregor), Peter Hoare (Vitek), Jurgita Adamonyte (Krista), Johan Reuter (Jaroslav Prus), Ales Briscein (Janek), Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Dr. Kolenaty), Linda Ormiston (a Scottish maid), Peter Lobert (a conscientious objector), Ryland Davies (Hauk-Sendorf), Sasha Rau (Jin Ling), Silvia Fenz (Mary Lang), Anita Stadler (Anita Stadler), Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Jörn H. Andresen (chorus master), Wiener Philharmoniker, Esa-Pekka Salonen (conductor), Christoph Marthaler (director), Anna Viebrock (set and costume design), Olaf Winter (lighting designer), Hannes Rossacher (video director)
Recorded live from the Salzburg Festival (August 8, 30 2011) – 118’
C-Major #709604 – Picture format: 16:9 anamorphic 1080i – Sound format: PCM Stereo, dts-HD MA 5.1 – Region code ABC – Subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean – Blu-ray disc and booklet with essays in English, German, and French
The spontaneity of a live performance will oftentimes elevate an evening’s entertainment to an artistic event. Of course, such spontaneity, by definition, cannot be planned or created. So when a live dormouse decided to rear its head and scamper across the stage of the Salzburg Festival during one of the most ethereally beautiful moments of Janacek’s The Makropulos Affair, the spontaneity of it all was a shock to say the least. Was it a daring touch by director Christoph Marthaler? Given the rest of the production, that assessment did not seem out of the question. It turns out that, no, that was not the case. Unfortunately, the video director’s treatment of the incident, providing a substantial closeup, turned out to be par for the course in a disappointing production full of distractions.
This production opens with a nearly five minute silent play between two cleaning women, sitting in a futuristic glass cube discussing the benefits and downsides to a 300-year life. It is mildly amusing, and all played out in gesture and supertitles. Unfortunately, their presence continues as the music and action being in an adjacent court room that is center stage. Each subsequent act begins with a silent prologue involving symbolic characters who continue to intrude throughout the rest of the act. While the entire visual may fare better in a large theater, the very nature of a filmed recording of an opera doesn’t lend itself to such an approach. The camera changes are occasionally manic as the video director feels it necessary to clue the home audience in on what clever action is happening stage right. If that weren’t issue enough, the action itself is quite pedestrian, pedantically enforcing the mere repetition that E.M. must feel throughout her 300 year existence. In the end, Janacek’s fiercely engaging score is not served by it and, indeed, does not need it.
Angela Denoke may seem an ideal singer for Emilia Marty. Throughout her career she has displayed a deft and captivating dramatic talent that has served characters such as Korngold’s Marietta. Unfortunately, the lack of focus in her soprano voice and resulting physical tremor is distracting. Dramatically she is able to demand the attention required of the diva despite being done no favors by the costume designer. She is an imposing figure. Johan Reuter as the older Jaroslav Prus is the most vocally consistent singer of the production with a beautiful, burnished baritone sound that is resonant and sinister. Jurgita Adamonyte is a touching Krista with an effective soprano voice to match. Ryland Davies as Hauk-Sendorf is hilariously effective and spunky. Esa-Pekka Salonen directs Janacek’s visceral score with force and drive, giving the composer’s both cynical and lyrical phrases bite and direction. The orchestra’s performance is indeed one of the highlights of the disc.
Technically, this disc is disappointing on a few levels. Most glaring, there are several video shots that are noticeably slowed down and therefore distorted in, what I believe, is an attempt to patch together the best of two performances. They don’t last particularly long, just a few seconds each, but there are several of them and they are distracting. Perhaps there was no other choice with only two performances worth of material to choose from, but it is still unfortunate. Secondly, the audio is spacious and reverberant, which is a nice change from the body microphone approach, but there was certainly a lack of weight and impact in both the vocal and orchestral sound.
Overall, having Janacek’s clever and searing masterpiece on blu-ray is a good thing, but the unfortunate production and technical issues make it highly disappointing. Like the dormouse, it is all just distracting from the genius of Janacek’s creativity and the play in which he saw so much dramatic value.
Matthew Richard Martinez