Performed in the original Czech with Czech and English subtitles.
Premiere: 21st November 2014, Janáček Theatre
The Makropulos Affair is a logical continuation of Janáček´s work. After the philosophical topic of the life cycle in The Cunning Little Vixen, the composer turned the theme of whether immortality can bring people happiness, or whether human life is fulfilling precisely because of the unavoidability of the end. He was inspired by the play of the same name by Karel Čapek (1890 – 1938)about the desire for immortality but also about the infinite fatigue and horror to those whom death is denied. The main character is an opera singer, Emilia Marty, formerly Elina Makropulos, the daughter of the physician of Emperor Rudolf II. Thanks to the elixir of life she has lived for more than three hundred years. She gradually ceases to enjoy life and becomes exhausted, lonely and cynical. This mysterious femme fatale turns upside down the life of anyone she meets. Čapek’s absurd comedy is a mystery thriller that looks into the eccentric world of the opera diva, the decadent aristocracy and the superficial bourgeoisie. Čapek was very sceptical when asked for permission to set the work to music. It may seem at first sight that he was correct – a story which takes place in an unattractive legal environment, bursting with dialogue and with a very complicated plot for which you almost need to hire a genealogy expert in order to follow the family relationships is not a typical theme for an opera piece, not even one written at the beginning of the 20th century. However, Janáček shortened the text and changed the end with the infallible feel of a playwright, just as he did with The Cunning Little Vixen. In the opera (unlike in the original play), another of Janáček´s series of great heroines, the unhappy Elina Makropulos, who was condemned to living for 300 years and changes into a heartless creature, dies in the end, reconciled both with herself and God. The Makropulos Affair was a great success at its premiere in 1928 and today is one of Janáček´s most frequently performed operas, especially abroad.
Janáček Opera Ensemble and Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno
The Court battle concerning the inheritance affair between the Gregor and Prus families has been continuing for almost one hundred years, and today the Supreme Court is to give its final verdict. Albert Gregor, representing the plaintiff, arrives at the offices of his advocate Kolenatý, to ask for the verdict. He only finds the solicitor Vítek, however. Meanwhile, Vítek‘s daughter Kristina, a young beginner opera singer, arrives at the offices and enthuses about the famous and somewhat mysterious singer Emilia Marty. At that moment Marty appears at the doors to the office accompanied by the advocate Kolenatý. She has come to ask about the Gregor court case, and all those present are astounded by her knowledge of events that had taken place one hundred years previously, and also by the fact that she knew about the relationship between the long-dead Baron Prus and his mistress Ellian Macgregor. She even knew the exact place where the unknown documents were stored, including the will of Baron Prus. Kolenatý does not believe her, but under pressure from Albert Gregor he is forced to return to Prus’s house to search for the documents. After a while the advocate Kolenatý returns together with Gregor’s court rival, Jaroslav Prus. They arrive with the news that at the site that was indicated by Marty, they had indeed found some old, until then unknown, paperwork.
In the wings of the theatre the staff are discussing the successful performance of the singer Emilia Marty. Two admirers are waiting for the singer here, amongst them Jaroslav Prus. His son Janek meets his sweetheart Kristina at the theatre. Kristina is completely fascinated by Marty and she also wants to become a famous artist. Marty arrives and received her admirers including Albert Gregor and the feeble-minded Hauk-Šendorf, who is reminded of his old flame Eugenia Montez by the singer. The tired Marty sends everybody away. Only Prus remains, who informs Marty about the secret mistress of his ancestor, the singer Ellen Macgregor, the mother of the Baron’s illegitimate child. In the register, however, she had been entered under a different name – Elina Makropulos. Marty is however interested in the secret envelope which is hidden amongst the other documents and which Prus refuses to hand over. Albert Gregor to tell her of his love, which is not returned, however. Janek has also fallen in love with Marty but he is too shy to say anything. Marty encourages him to obtain the secret envelope without his father‘s knowledge, but suddenly his father, Prus, enters, who says that she could have the envelope if she spends the night with him.
Marty has fulfilled her side of the agreement and now she asks Prus for the promised envelope. She receives it, but Prus is not pleased –he did not expect such coldness from her. His servant is looking for him; he has some tragic news. Prus’s son Janek had committed suicide out of his love for Marty. The confused Hauk enters with an offer of a joint elopement to Spain. Marty agrees to go with him, but at that moment Gregor, Kolenatý and Vítek arrive with Kristina. They have many questions: after Marty has signed a souvenir photograph for Kristina they discover that her signature is the same as that on the century-old documents. They urge Marty to such an extent that the singer starts to relate her unbelievable tale. Her real name is Elina Makropulos, and was the daughter of the Greek Hieronymous Makropulos who, as the personal physician to Emperor Rudolf II, had attempted to produce an elixir of youth. He tried it on his daughter, and she was now 337 years of age. Over the centuries she had changed her identity; amongst other names had used Ellian Macgregor, and had been the lover of Prus, and had also been the Spanish gypsy Eugenia Montez, who had known Hauk-Šendorf. Now she was posing as Emilia Marty and had become entangled in the in the affair because she was looking for the envelope with the recipe for the elixir of youth – the same envelope for which Jaroslav Prus had given to her in exchange for a night spent together. The elixir works for only three hundred years and, should Marty wish to live longer, she must drink another draught. However, she realises that she no longer enjoys life; she is tired and weary, and life had lost its meaning. She wants to die, and decides not to drink the new elixir. She gives the recipe to Kristina, and offers her everlasting youth, beauty and fame. The young girl burns the paper, however, and chooses instead a short, but meaningful life.