OLIVIA Fuchs’ direction of this new production of The Makropulos Affair, superbly conducted by the Janáček expert and WNO music director Tomas Hanus, is a refreshingly ungimmicky telling of the strange tale.
Most importantly, it is gorgeously sung. Designer Nicola Turner gives us a grey, dusty old lawyer’s office, the backstage of a theatre, and then a hotel bedroom, for the drama to unfold and the mystery of the central character Emilia Marty who has eternal life thanks to a secret potion is revealed.
Emilia has passed through several different identities and lovers. However, she now needs more of the potion to extend her life which is ebbing away and that means retrieving the recipe that has been locked away. She needs to persuade yet more men who she can entrance to deliver the recipe to her from its hiding place amongst the papers of an estate that has been the subject of a long running legal dispute.
But in the final act she does not want to face more years, saying only the knowledge that all is transient gives anything value. Each scene has a different type of clock, and a video backdrop is the machinations of a timepiece. We have a vampire-like bite of a lover’s neck and the scene where she is courted is dominated by red, the colour of blood, in her dress, the roses they bring her and a vast pile of roses. Yet the final scene is white, dominated by a vast bed but having been given the recipe for the potion what she needs she decides she has had enough. Emilia gives the recipe for the potion to a young woman Kristina (strongly sung by Harriet Eyley), but she chooses to burn it rather than continue the curse. Having lost her own love Janek, stylishly taken by Alexander Sprague, to the now world-weary ever-youthful woman’s charms she wants none of it.
The performance stands or falls on the ability of the powerful soprano Ángeles Blancas Gulin to be the pivot for not only the visual experience through engaging acting but to deliver Janáček’s words and music through singing that is both passionate and refined, rich in conveying disdain, emotion and ultimately despair. The male roles of Baron Prus and Albert Gregor are taken with vigour and distinctively sung and acted by the always excellent David Stout and Nicky Spence.
WMC Wednesday Sep 28 then touring.