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Janacek: The Makropulos Case / Salonen, Denoke, Reuter, Hoare, Very, Vienna Philharmonic

Janacek / Salonen / Wiener Philharmoniker / Denoke
Release Date: 05/29/2012 
Label:  C Major   Catalog #: 709508  
Composer:  Leos Janácek
Performer:  Ryland DaviesLinda OrmistonJochen SchmeckenbecherPeter Hoare,   ... 
Conductor:  Esa-Pekka Salonen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera ChorusVienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 2 Hours 15 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Also available on Blu-ray

Premiered in 1926, Leoš Janácek’s absorbing masterpiece Vec Makropulos reflects all the dominant musical styles of the early 20th century, from Bohemian tunefulness to big Straussian phrases, Berg-like jaggedness and primeval rhythms. With the “breathtakingly grandiose” (Salzburger Nachrichten) Angela Denoke in the lead role, this emotionally powerful opera was given superior treatment at the hands of the Wiener Philharmoniker under Esa-Pekka Salonen. They and the entire cast joined forces to make this production one of the highlights of the 2011 Salzburg Festival. “Ms. Denoke is a compelling actress … Salonen ensures a brilliant
Read more reading of Janácek’s fascinating score.” – The New York Times

Leoš Janácek
(The Makropulos Affair)

Emilia Marty – Angela Denoke
Albert Gregor – Raymond Very
Vitek – Peter Hoare
Krista – Jurgita Adamonyte
Jaroslav Prus – Johan Reuter
Janek – Aleš Briscein
Dr. Kolenatý – Jochen Schmeckenbecher
A Scottish maid – Linda Ormiston
A conscientious objector – Peter Lobert
Hauk-Šendorf – Ryland Davies
Jin Ling – Sasha Rau
Mary Lang – Silvia Fenz
Anita Stadler – Anita Stadler

Vienna State Opera Chorus
(chorus master: Jörn H. Andresen)
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor

Christoph Marthaler, stage director
Anne Viebrock, set and costume designer
Olaf Winter, lighting designer

Recorded live from the Grosses Festspielhaus, Salzburg Festival, 2011

Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean
Running time: 135 mins
No. of DVDs: 1

R E V I E W:

JANÁCEK The Makropoulos Case Esa-Pekka Salonen, cond; Angela Denoke ( Emilia Marty ); Raymond Very (Albert Gregor ); Johan Reuter ( Jaroslav Prus ); Peter Hoare ( Vitek ); Jochen Schmeckenbecher ( Dr. Kolenatý ); Jurgita Adamonyte ( Krista ); Vienna St Op Ch; Angelika Prokopp Summer Acad Members; Vienna PO C MAJOR 709508 (DVD: 118:00) Live: Salzburg 8/8–30/2010

This production is not strictly Eurotrash ( Regietheater ), but it has many elements thereof. Before the overture and between act II and act III come extended vignettes that have only vague, symbolic connections to the opera—a nursing home for aged women, a courtroom filled with judges and spectators. These vignettes may have been added just to pad this 95-minute opera into a full evening’s entertainment. We see the characters converse, but we do not hear them; their words appear in the subtitles throughout the first vignette—but not in the second. Several of the characters become spectators during scenes in the opera, wandering on and off stage. There is one basic set for all three acts; it is a courtroom, which must serve as an attorney’s office, backstage at the opera, and a hotel room. An additional set stands at each side: a small hospital-like anteroom, plus doors to private rooms, and an office waiting room, with a full-wall picture window into another waiting room. During the overture, a man and a young woman wait there; she turns out to be Krista, but we never see him again. The main characters often appear walking up an open corridor prior to their onstage entrance, which works only when Prus arrives and overhears Marty scheming with his son. Why do stage directors so often ignore an opera’s text? It just looks stupid when Krista, fending off Janek’s amorous attentions, cries “No, no, don’t kiss me,” and he is 20 feet away, behind a high counter. Or when Gregor enters, asking Marty “Why are your eyes closed?”—although he is standing behind her. Again and again, characters talk intimately at opposite sides of the stage.

The first act of this opera, and much of the second, depend on Marty being an irresistible femme fatale , and, in this age of video, we have come to expect visual as well as aural truth on stage. Angela Denoke, an attractive young woman, doesn’t project that aura—especially as I have just seen Karita Mattila play Marty at the Met, holding more than 2,000 men (of all persuasions) in her thrall. Denoke’s knee-length, Mondrian-based dress is chic rather than sexy. She is excellent portraying Marty’s other facets: the icy dominatrix who controls everybody in act II and the unfeeling, weary Elina Makropoulos of act III. Gregor, supposedly a reckless if distraught young fellow, is also visually miscast: Marty asks him how old he is, and a balding, corporate gentleman with a grey fringe and a week’s white stubble answers “34.” This video is an amalgam of two performances given three weeks apart; Gregor appears in an act II duet alternately with and without the stubble. Prus, on the other hand, is perfect: elegant, sophisticated, cunning, and blasé—until his disappointment and tragedy in act III. Ryland Davies is a fine Hauk-?endorf—it’s a role that can’t miss—although he looks a bit too dignified to be truly crazy. As the cleaning woman (doubling chambermaid), Linda Ormiston is wonderful, reeking with character. Stage director Christoph Marthaler obviously doesn’t like lawyers; he gives both Vitek and Dr. Kolenaty exaggerated personal tics that make them look ridiculous.

Fortunately, everybody can sing, all the way down to the stagehand, a giant of a man (bass Peter Lobert) who doubles as a nursing-home attendant. Denoke is among the better Martys on record, although I still prize Mackerras’s Elisabeth Soderström. Salonen’s Vienna Philharmonic is of course magnificent, although not given the aural definition it deserves, which is why it sounds more incisive under Mackerras in Decca’s superb studio recording. The chorus doesn’t have much to do in this opera, and—although the booklet is mum on the subject—I gather that the additional group in the headnote plays the people in the interludes.

But this is an endlessly fascinating opera, and it survives—perhaps even prospers from—this semi-weird production. The final act is, as always, pure dynamite; Elina’s death scene is unscathed by a window-washer at work behind her or by a live rat running across the stage in front of her. (How did they do that?) The opera is sung in Czech; overly simplified English subtitles, which miss important details of the lawsuit in act I and of Elina Makropoulos’s life history in act III, also appear in German, French, Spanish, Chinese, and Korean. This DVD may be heard in PCM stereo, which works best for headphones, or in DTS 5.1; the video (“filmed in High Definition and mastered from an HD source”) is in 16:9 format; both are fine, although the sound in Salzburg’s Grosse Festspielhaus is a bit too reverberant. The extras consist of half a dozen trailers for other Unitel Classics DVDs. There is also a Blu-ray version, which I have not seen.

Anna Silja was a noted Emilia Marty, but when she finally recorded the role (a 1995 Glyndebourne DVD), she was too old for the part, visually and vocally. There was a surprisingly fine Makropoulos Case by the Canadian Opera Company on a 1989 VHS tape. A natural, realistic production, it featured superb direction and acting, and was quite well sung. Stephanie Sundine, getting better from act to act, was a spellbinding Marty; David Graham played Gregor as an impetuous, overgrown boy; and Gary Rideout was magnificent as a crazy-as-a-loon Hauk-?endorf, hysterically funny yet deeply moving. Even the orchestra, led by Berislav Kolobucar, was first-rate. That tape remains my favorite video Makropoulos , but this one is recommended as the best on DVD.

FANFARE: James H. North
Read less

Works on This Recording

The Makropulos affair by Leos Janácek
Performer:  Ryland Davies (Tenor), Linda Ormiston (Mezzo Soprano), Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Baritone),
Peter Hoare (Tenor), Angela Denoke (Soprano), Raymond Very (Tenor),
Johan Reuter (Baritone), Jurgita Adamonyte (Mezzo Soprano), Ales Briscein (Tenor)
Conductor:  Esa-Pekka Salonen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna State Opera Chorus,  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1923-1925; Brno, Czech Republic 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Bracing new production of this cryptic masterpiece July 23, 2012 By Daniel Coombs See All My Reviews "Leos Janacek wrote what many consider his operatic masterpiece, The Makropoulos Case (The Marhropoulos Affair/Vec Makropoulos) in the mid 1920’s, premiering in 1926. Based on a comedy by Czech playwright Karel Capek, this is certainly one of Janacek’s best scores, but is also a fairly dense and symbolic story that unfolds gradually. This is a very enjoyable production, recorded live at the 2011 Salzburg Festival with a modernistic set design and somewhat surreal feel in this staging by Christopher Marthaler.

Musically, this is a very interesting work, containing some “recognizable” Janacek (brass flourishes and chattering winds that will remind many of bits and pieces of Taras Bulba or the Sinfonietta). However, the score also flirts with styles that echo everything from late Richard Strauss to early Schoenberg to Debussy. Both musically and dramatically I have always liked The Makropoulos Case but in the small, but impressive Janacek operatic output, I am partial to From the House of the Dead with its fairly grim, but direct libretto.

The plot to Makropoulos is – all at once – simple and very heady. Essentially, a mysterious opera singer and a bit of femme fatale, Emilia Marty, shows up while in opera productions to offer information that can unravel clues to a century old lawsuit between two families involving secret documents, spurned love and unproven lineages. The real catch – which does not even begin to become clear until the late second act – is that Marty is probably (later – admittedly) the daughter of the physician to the Emperor Rudolph II who had commissioned the personal physician to concoct a “fountain of youth” potion which the Emperor tested on the doctor’s daughter, Elina Makropoulos. After it is revealed that Emilia Marty has, indeed, been alive for over 300 years and has assumed various identities, each of which is a woman with the initials “EM”, the proof of this finally emerges. Along the way, Emilia encounters many men who are attracted to her; who have an inkling of her mysterious nature and – in one case – is actually a former lover from many years ago.

The story is considered a comedy by author Capek and by Janacek but the humor is broad, satirical and subtle; falling mainly along the lines of poking fun at the folly of those who seek immortality, the arrogance of the upper class who think they can, literally, buy such a thing and the frailty of the human nature; especially into old age. If Makropoulos is not performed more often it is not for the music, which is accessible and ethereal; just “modern” enough while being very audience friendly. It is, perhaps, for the libretto, which requires full audience concentration and more than a little acumen for irony. In fact, many would find it a stretch that the story is a “comedy”. While there are stock characters and some very creative unsung doddering laborers who are treated a bit shabbily at the hands of the upper crust in satiric fashion; ultimately Emilia’s centuries old roulade ends when her secret is discovered. She leaves several forelorn admirers, a son and a starry eyed admirer of opera all somewhat shocked and disappointed and Marty – in the libretto – drops dead (In Marthaler’s staging, she walks off stage symbolically never to be seen again). The “comedy” is the broadest of satires and the tone is actually quite bittersweet.
The reason to acquire this very engaging new DVD is the modernistic staging, coupled with the wonderful and insightful performance by the forces of the Vienna Philharmonic under the always amazing Esa-Pekka Salonen; one of my favorite conductors. All performances are quite good but the real – and central – star of the show is Angela Denoke as Emilia, who exudes the necessary uneasy blend of sexiness and intrigue.

This is a very fine disc to own to have a wonderful performance of this very esoteric and somewhat rare opera by the Czech master but also to have an unusually riveting staging of a work that does not get staged often at all. Following at home is worth your while and I recommend this production strongly.

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