The Court battle concerning the inheritance affair between the Gregor and Prus families has been continuing for almost one hundred years, and today the Supreme Court is to give its final verdict. Albert Gregor, representing the plaintiff, arrives at the offices of his advocate Kolenatý, to ask for the verdict. He only finds the solicitor Vítek, however. Meanwhile, Vítek‘s daughter Kristina, a young beginner opera singer, arrives at the offices and enthuses about the famous and somewhat mysterious singer Emilia Marty. At that moment Marty appears at the doors to the office accompanied by the advocate Kolenatý. She has come to ask about the Gregor court case, and all those present are astounded by her knowledge of events that had taken place one hundred years previously, and also by the fact that she knew about the relationship between the long-dead Baron Prus and his mistress Ellian Macgregor. She even knew the exact place where the unknown documents were stored, including the will of Baron Prus. Kolenatý does not believe her, but under pressure from Albert Gregor he is forced to return to Prus’s house to search for the documents. After a while the advocate Kolenatý returns together with Gregor’s court rival, Jaroslav Prus. They arrive with the news that at the site that was indicated by Marty, they had indeed found some old, until then unknown, paperwork.
In the wings of the theatre the staff are discussing the successful performance of the singer Emilia Marty. Two admirers are waiting for the singer here, amongst them Jaroslav Prus. His son Janek meets his sweetheart Kristina at the theatre. Kristina is completely fascinated by Marty and she also wants to become a famous artist. Marty arrives and received her admirers including Albert Gregor and the feeble-minded Hauk-Šendorf, who is reminded of his old flame Eugenia Montez by the singer. The tired Marty sends everybody away. Only Prus remains, who informs Marty about the secret mistress of his ancestor, the singer Ellen Macgregor, the mother of the Baron’s illegitimate child. In the register, however, she had been entered under a different name – Elina Makropulos. Marty is however interested in the secret envelope which is hidden amongst the other documents and which Prus refuses to hand over. Albert Gregor to tell her of his love, which is not returned, however. Janek has also fallen in love with Marty but he is too shy to say anything. Marty encourages him to obtain the secret envelope without his father‘s knowledge, but suddenly his father, Prus, enters, who says that she could have the envelope if she spends the night with him.
Marty has fulfilled her side of the agreement and now she asks Prus for the promised envelope. She receives it, but Prus is not pleased –he did not expect such coldness from her. His servant is looking for him; he has some tragic news. Prus’s son Janek had committed suicide out of his love for Marty. The confused Hauk enters with an offer of a joint elopement to Spain. Marty agrees to go with him, but at that moment Gregor, Kolenatý and Vítek arrive with Kristina. They have many questions: after Marty has signed a souvenir photograph for Kristina they discover that her signature is the same as that on the century-old documents. They urge Marty to such an extent that the singer starts to relate her unbelievable tale. Her real name is Elina Makropulos, and was the daughter of the Greek Hieronymous Makropulos who, as the personal physician to Emperor Rudolf II, had attempted to produce an elixir of youth. He tried it on his daughter, and she was now 337 years of age. Over the centuries she had changed her identity; amongst other names had used Ellian Macgregor, and had been the lover of Prus, and had also been the Spanish gypsy Eugenia Montez, who had known Hauk-Šendorf. Now she was posing as Emilia Marty and had become entangled in the in the affair because she was looking for the envelope with the recipe for the elixir of youth – the same envelope for which Jaroslav Prus had given to her in exchange for a night spent together. The elixir works for only three hundred years and, should Marty wish to live longer, she must drink another draught. However, she realises that she no longer enjoys life; she is tired and weary, and life had lost its meaning. She wants to die, and decides not to drink the new elixir. She gives the recipe to Kristina, and offers her everlasting youth, beauty and fame. The young girl burns the paper, however, and chooses instead a short, but meaningful life.
Director: Olivia Fuchs
Stage design: Nicola Turner
In the leading roles:
Emilia Marty: Emma Bell
Albert Gregor: Nicky Spence
Dr. Kolenatý: Gustav Belacek
Baron Jaroslav Prus: David Stout
If someone doesn´t like opera, take them to see Janáček, said the conductor Simon Rattle – and he is right. Each of Janáček´s operas is a unique creation that runs at the speed of thought and is theatrical in the best sense of word. For example, The Makropulos Case, with a plot that is almost like a crime novel, is certainly not a typical opera theme. In Janáček´s version, a hundred-year-old legal dispute over an inheritance quickly turns into a captivating drama about the search for the meaning of human life. At the festival, Makropulos will be presented by one of the best British opera ensembles – the Welsh National Opera, under the direction of its music director, the conductor Tomáš Hanus, who is actually from Brno. It will not be their first time here: in 2018 they gave us a great performance of Janáček´s opera From the House of the Dead, and they are sure to prepare an extraordinary artistic experience for visitors once again this time around.
But life has stopped in me, Jesus Christ, and it cannot go on! One grows tired of being good, one grows tired of being bad. The earth loses its attraction, and the sky loses its attraction. And one realizes that one’s soul has died! Janáček never managed to stay without work for long; as soon as he’d finished his opera about the cunning vixen Bystrouška, he started to look for another theme. In the summer of 1923, he went on his holidays with F. X. Šalda´s play The Child, which had been recommended to him by many people, and also Karel Čapek´s play The Makropulos Case. Šalda´s play did not capture his heart in the end, but The Makropulos Case caught his interest, and after returning from his vacation, he asked Karel Čapek for permission to set it to music. Čapek was initially sceptical, and did not consider his conversational, very non-poetic and overly talkative play worthy of Janáček´s music. At first glance, we can only agree with Čapek – a legal environment full of dialogues and intricate events, where the characters make phone calls and where the tracing of family ties is almost a task for a genealogist, was not a particularly typical setting for an opera at the beginning of the 20th century. But Janáček, who had already dealt with life and its endless cycle in The Cunning Little Vixen, was very interested in what The Makropulos Case was hiding behind its detective story plot – questions such as whether immortality can bring people happiness, or whether it is the inevitability of the end that brings fulfilment to human life. Janáček himself later recollected: It grabbed me. You know, that horror, that emotion felt by a person who will never have an end. Pure misfortune. They want nothing, they expect nothing. Something must come out of it. Act three, it is important for me: that pace, that slope! That´s what I felt, that´s what I wanted.
In the end, Čapek agreed with the setting of his work to music, and Janáček began editing and shortening the text of the play. He devoted the next two years to the composition, and his correspondence maps his interest and compassion for the main character of the opera: A beautiful woman, 300 years old – and forever young – but all of her feelings burned out! Brrr! As cold as ice! But I´m making her a little warmer so that people can sympathize with her. I may fall in love with her. The premiere at the Brno theatre in the pre-Christmas period of 1928 aroused unprecedented interest and the theatre was completely sold out! The success was enormous. Janáček recollected: The cold one had an unexpected success! It sent chills down everyone´s spine. They say it is my greatest work!