“...impeccably well-timed direction” – DN

VĚC MAKRO|PULOS

What is the meaning of life if it has no end? We want to live longer and longer, yet remain ever young. Janáček’s opera is, in a double sense, a timeless drama, where the human quest for immortality is taken to the extreme.

Trailer for Věc Makropulos (The Makropulos Affair)
“...if you're looking for musical theatre at its best, then see this opera”P4 Radio Sjuhärad
“...one of the most intense opera experiences of the year”Dagens Nyheter
“The ensemble are perfectly suited to their roles”Svenska Dagbladet
“Annalena Persson is magnificent”Aftonbladet

Emilia Marty has lived for 337 years. Now the potion that prolonged her life is wearing off and she desperately needs a new dose – but the formula for the potion has vanished. Emilia commences a frantic hunt, during which she literally walks over dead bodies. The plot takes an unexpected twist when she finally holds the formula for immortality in her hand. Is it really worth living for 300 years more? 

From the very first note, the rhythms and intense excitement of Janáček’s musical idiom tease us with an almost physical presence. The poignant final scene is hard to match in terms of musical character and dramatic intensity.

With Janáček's penultimate opera, Věc Makropulos (performed for the first time in Sweden in its original language) all major operas by this Czech composer will have been performed in at The Göteborg Opera. Like many of his later works, this piece deals with our relationship to time, and what we are really doing with our lives.

Annalena Persson (Emilia Marty)

This production is a collaboration with the National Theatre in Brno, Czech Republic, where the piece was first performed in 1926. David Radok, our in-house director, is responsible for the production. 

We are proud to present this work as performed primarily by our own ensemble. In-house dramatic soprano Annalena Persson takes on the considerable challenge of portraying Emilia Marty, the woman whose power to attract men has never abated, although her life has become an increasingly bitter series of empty repetitions. Tomas Lind, Åke Zetterström and Anders Lorentzson also take on demanding roles.

Janáček and The Makropulos Affair

Article by Göran Gademan, The Göteborg Opera’s dramaturgist

Little did they realise in Brno in 1904, as the millwheel in Jenůfa began spinning to the xylophone in the first few bars of the opera, that it would mark the beginning of one of the greatest opera adventures of the 20th century. The composer was Leoš Janáček (1854-1928), and although the performance enjoyed some success, initially it was mainly a local affair that was soon forgotten. It was not until writer Max Brod translated the opera into German and took it to Vienna in 1918 that Janáček made his real breakthrough. The composer, by now in his sixties, then became hugely prolific and over the following years produced such genuine masterpieces as Katja Kabanová, The Cunning Little Vixen, Věc Makropulos (The Makropulos Affair) and From the House of the Dead, always featuring his particular characteristics and singular musical style. 

Janáček with his wife Zdenka, 1881

By this time the First World War had come to an end, the Habsburg Empire had collapsed and the Republic of Czechoslovakia had been established. Janáček came from the Moravian countryside, but he studied to be a composer in Prague and Vienna and counted Dvořák among his friends. He had been working as a music teacher in Brno for many years, and had a strong interest in collecting and publishing Moravian folk songs. He was also genuinely interested in the Czech language – he is said to have kept a notebook in his pocket at all times, in which he recorded the intonation and dialogues from conversations he overheard. And his musical drama is entirely based on the Czech language and its intonation. Janáček’s harsh, slightly abrupt musical style and tonal modernism are a far cry from his forerunner Dvořák’s romantic genre.

The important thing is what we do with our lives – with our dreams, hopes and desires. Even if we fail to achieve them, these dreams are proof that we are still alive, which is why it is important to never stop yearning.
Kamila Stösslova

Janáček was in an unhappy marriage, and in 1917 he met the young couple David and Kamila Stössl, whereupon he fell hopelessly in love with Kamila. His love was not reciprocated and Kamila was unwilling to leave her husband, but unrequited love is not necessarily unhappy love. Kamila Stösslová remained his muse and source of inspiration for the rest of his life, and they never lost contact. Her influence was most obvious in the opera Katja Kabanová, but she may also have been the inspiration for future works. In The Cunning Little Vixen (Príhody Lisky Bystrousky) from 1924, she is thought to be behind the enchanting, elusive character of the principal role and in the Forester’s fascination for this vixen. But also in the absent Terynka, whom the Schoolmaster can never marry. Perhaps there’s even a whisper of her in Emilia Marty, the main character in Věc Makropulos, first performed in Brno in 1926. 

This work is also characterised by a fascination with time, what we do with our lives and our role in nature’s cycle. A human life lasts significantly longer than that of a vixen. And it is even shorter for a mayfly, but despite this all three experience the same life curve. Emilia Marty has lived for more than 300 years as she has drunk from the elixir of life, but her life has become meaningless, bitter and empty – everything is just a repetition and nothing has any value anymore. The important thing is what we do with our lives – with our dreams, hopes and desires. Even if we fail to achieve them, these dreams are proof that we are still alive, which is why it is important to never stop yearning. “I didn’t think life would be like this,” says Jenůfa, and Katja Kabanová portrays people who in true Chekhovian style are unable to realise their dreams. In The Cunning Little Vixen we are also shown Janáček’s strong relationship with nature and our role in nature as people and animals, in our interaction, or simply as reflections of one another. The death of the vixen when she falls victim to the poacher’s bullets is conveyed without sentimentality. Life is lived in the here and now, then it is over. But life goes on for our descendants. 

Before producing his penultimate opera, Janáček had seen Karel Čapek’s science fiction-like comedy Věc Makropulos, first performed in Prague in 1922. Janáček immediately wanted to compose the libretto for the play, and it is easy to understand his fascination – the play touches on several of his earlier themes, but in an almost absurdly warped way. Emilia Marty was born Elina Makropulos in the 16th century, the daughter of a physician. Her father tests an elixir on her that he has concocted to give the emperor eternal life. Elina falls into a coma and her father is executed, but she survives and the elixir works. She has now lived for over 300 years, constantly changing her identity, but keeping the initials E.M. The recipe for the elixir has gone astray and she needs a new dose to stay alive. Bitter and cynical, she stops at nothing to get hold of the recipe. But when she finally has it in her hand, she decides not to renew the dose: “If you only knew how easy life is for you. Everything has meaning for you. You fools are blessed, for the simple reason that you are going to die.” Emilia gives the recipe to the young Krista, who burns it while Emilia is destroyed before their very eyes. 

Besides his native country, the UK and Sweden have also had a strong Janáček tradition and his works were popular in these countries from an early stage
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)

As with the Forester’s monologue in the final scene of The Cunning Little Vixen, the end of Věc Makropulos was Janáček’s own addition and forms a grandiose, highly emotional final with existential overtones, breaking with Čapek’s conversation comedy. The chorus of invisible voices behind the scenes combines with Emilia’s lyrical vocal flow and the magnificent orchestral movement. The other scenes flow along in Čapek’s rapid conversational style, with a somewhat more modern musical expression than previously. The principal role is a huge challenge for a dramatic soprano, both vocally and in terms of acting, but here too she is surrounded by a strong circle of characters: the cynical baritone Prus, who duets with her in exchange for the recipe; old Hauk-Šendorf, who recognises her from a previous existence in Spain (written for operetta tenor and featuring castanets in the orchestra), and Krista’s innocent fiancé, who takes his own life, having been seduced and deserted by Emilia. And Krista, an ambitious and self-obsessed singing student, intended for a pert soubrette.

As always, Janáček’s opera was first performed in Brno, 1926, before reaching Prague and the rest of Europe. His final opera From the House of the Dead was first performed posthumously in 1930. Besides his native country, the UK and Sweden have also had a strong Janáček tradition and his works were popular in these countries from an early stage. Other than that, his works are performed frequently in northern and eastern Europe, but have appealed less to the Latin countries. Interestingly enough, he has never really made it in the US, despite being so popular in the UK.

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