We went to the Makropoulos Case at the Coliseum on Saturday. For me, it is a wonderfully memorable Janacek opera and I look forward to performances. Having seen Elisabeth Soderstrom, Catherine Wilson and Ana Silja in the role, I attempted not to sit back and simply complain that Cheryl Barker was none of these.
Christopher Alden’s new production uses a single set, designed by Charles Edwards. A white walled room dominated by the RH wall which is a wonderful Art Deco confection of metal and glass. It looks very much like the sort of room you might see in a 1930’s Italian railway station. The room doubles as Dr. Kolnaty’s office, Elina Makropoulos’s dressing room and her hotel room. As such it is too large for strict naturalism, but then naturalism was obviously not Alden’s main concern.
The glass wall was used to enable strong raking side lighting to be used throughout the production and a row of doors facilitated the numbers entrances and exits. The usual Alden concerns were present; spare set, lots of chairs, characters lurking on stage, stylised action. Quite often the cast sit or stand in rows, as if waiting for their next cue for action, what they don’t always do is react to what is happening on stage. Given the stylised action it was difficult to believe that Gregor (Robert Brubaker in wonderfully passionate form) fell in love with E.M. in an instant. The men were all in grey suits, the general tone-colour of the production was grey.
The production seem to be aiming to distance the audience from the plot, to objectify E.M. Perhaps this would have worked if Alden had been working with an experienced E.M, but Cheryl Barker was making her role debut. She was impressive and from the outset came over as mysterious and sexy, despite a range of desperately unsexy outfits designed by Sue Willmington. Barker’s was a highly promising debut and she will grow into a powerful protagonist. What she lacks, at the moment, is the ability to command a stage with a mere gesture, the ability to force us to focus just on her so that we believe that she fascinates every person on stage. Barker’s E.M. was attractive and passionate, but rather cool (in tune with the rest of the production) so we did not quite believe in the effect she had on everyone.
Barker was surrounded by a strong cast. Neal Davies was Dr. Kolenty, John Graham Hall was Vitek, John Wegner was Prus and Graham Clark was Hauk Sendorf. Clark’s scene with E.M in act 2 was one of the highlights of the production.
Musically the production was memorable, being in the wonderful hands of Sir Charles Mackerras. Music and drama came together at the end, when Barker’s final scene overcame the limitations of the production.