Monday 27 September 2010

The Makropoulos Case at the London Coliseum

I was less than completely taken with Christopher Alden's production of Janaceck's The Makropoulos Case at the London Coliseum when it was new in 2006. Alden was on hand to rehearse this first revival of the production (seen 24/09/2010) and I don't think any major changes had been made. But a different cast combined with my own familiartiy with the staging seemed to combine to form a rather stronger, positive impression.

Amanda Roocroft was astonishing as Emilia Marty. Wearing a bobbed wig and dark glasses for her first entry she was almost unrecognisable. Her E.M. was at times closer to Lulu, brightly toned, accurately sung and sexily amoral. No ageless beauty, but a chic, sexy and entirely selfish and thoughtless creation. Musically Roocroft's E.M. seemed far more accurate and controlled than Cheryl Barker (who sang the role when the production was new). The moment when she first says her real name, Elina Makropoulos, was ravishing and the closing section had real beauty and power.

As Albert Gregor, Peter Hoare looked rather non-descript but sang with power, accuracy and clarity; conveying Gregor's obsession with E.M. without sounding demented from the outset. The remaining cast were equally strong, forming a fine ensemble Andrew Shore was a bluff Kolenaty, bringing a touch of warmth to the lawyer's dry asperity. Ashley Holland's strong stage presence gave suitable gravitas to Prus, even when he was stripped down to his underwear at the opening of Act 2.

Characters like Janek (Christopher Turner), Vitek (Alasdair Elliott) and Kristina (Laura Mitchell) have only a few short moments to make their mark, but this they did. Veteran tenor Ryland Davies gave a superb cameo as the elderly Hauk-Sendorf, rembering his youthful fling with E.M.

The Makropoulos Case is a strange and wonderful opera, highly compressed (each act lasting only 30 minutes) and very conversational, until the closing scene. But with an unusal and fascinating heroine whose lovely exterior conceils a heart of ice. Roocroft and Alden created for us an E.M. who did excercise this fascination, not as a cool icy character, but one who is tantalisingly amoral and heedless of others.

This performance did begin to match the performances I witnessed in the 1970's with Catherine Wilson and Elisabeth Söderström in the title role. For me these 1970's performances remain a touchstone in this opera.

Sir Richard Armstrong was in the pit. He and the ENO orchestra gave a dashing account of the score.

It is strange the way that this opera has been relatively neglected in London in the last few decades. ENO's production was welcome when it was new and more than welcome on its return. I must confess that I still find the production too cool and expressionist but I am coming to warm to it.

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