The Makropulos Affair – Janáček, Welsh National Opera (WNO) The Birmingham Hippodrome, 8 November 2022, on tour until 2 December 2022. 5***** David Gray

Time is very much of the essence of this opera. Emilia Marty, a woman who has lived for over three hundred years takes an interest in a probate legal case. The case has run for nearly a hundred years, leaving generations of two families trapped in purgatorial limbo. Clocks dominate the sets of each of the three acts and, when Marty makes her first entrance, frozen cascades of legal documents hang in the air as though time has stood still. Which, for most of the characters, it has.

This is a production rich in pregnant imagery. In her long life, Marty has adopted many personas and now she seems to have no identity. Consequently, in the course of the opera, she appears in many guises. Soprano Angeles Blancas Gulin inhabits each of these brilliantly in a singing-acting tour de force. In the first act she is a cool business-like, 1920s femme fatal. Beaded and bobbed, she bestrides the stage, totally in control of the situation.

In the second, she is a great courtesan, dressed in a scarlet-harlot gown. Then she becomes a gypsy in a black petticoat. She plays with the stream of men who come to court her. The stage is awash with red roses; symbols of the adoration she commands. Each man brings more roses. She throws them on the growing pile. So many roses, so little meaning; symbols of the futility of her superfluous longevity.

Exhausted by ennui and bored by the effortlessness of seduction, she writhes feverishly on the flowers.
Act three brings a further manifestation: a blonde, satin-clad siren of the silver screen. Her room is piled with monogrammed luggage which speaks of a woman whose life is in transit.

Too much life has left Marty heartless and cold. Janáček invests his score with an appropriate cool modernity. It is spikey, short-phrased; at times matter of fact. Tenor, Nicky Spence, as would be lover, Gregor, makes the most of occasional flashes of impassioned lyricism, showing off a gloriously, soaring voice. But these are rare until the final act.

As Marty embraces her mortality, Conductor, Tomas Hanus, always completely in control, beautifully manages the transition into a lusher soundscape, and Blancas Gulin brings her searing portrayal of this complex character to an end with tenderness and pathos.

The cast is without fault vocally and the acting is convincing; focused and well thought-out in its intention. Olivia Fuchs’ skillful direction ensures that movements and gestures always flow from the text. It’s is a complex piece, musically and dramatically, but this production manages to bring a feeling of truth and spontaneity despite its challenges. A wonderfully impressive and engrossing piece of theatre.

Emilia Marty – Angelas Blancas Gulin
Albert Gregor – Nicky Spence
Dr Kolenaty – Gustav Belacek
Vitek – Mark Le Brocq
Krista – Harriet Eyley
Baron Jaroslav Prus – David Stout
Janek – Alexander Sprague
Count Hauk-Sendorf – Alan Oke
Komorna – Julia Daramy-Williams
Stage Technician/Doctor – Dafydd Allen
Cleaning Lady – Monika Sawa
Gentlemen of WNO Chorus
Conductor – Tomas Hanus

Director – Olivia Fuchs
Designer – Nicolas Turner
Lighting Designer – Robbie Butler
Video Designer – Sam Sharples

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