Review: The Makropulos Case

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Leeds Grand Theatre

Of the handful of British productions that Janacek’s The Makropulos Case has received, this new one from Tom Cairns for Opera North comes closer than most in persuading us of the reality of a story surrounding the woman who has lived for 337 years.

Emilia Marty, the most famous opera singer of her time, comes in search of the formula devised by her father that has extended her life. That quest has taken her into a long-running legal battle over the ownership of an estate, which only the knowledge of her long life can solve.

Using one excellent and adaptable set to create three locations, the costumes and stage furnishings may be a little modern for the 1920s, but its elaborate contents ideally recreate the chaos of the first act.

Casting is exceptionally good, with the young soprano, Ylva Kihlberg, succeeding in conveying the complexity of Emila’s character. Paul Nilon is the downtrodden Albert Gregor fighting for financial survival against a powerful adversary in Robert Hayward, as Baron Prust. Mediating is James Cresswell’s robust bass-baritone, vividly bringing to life the lawyer, Dr Kolenaty.

I have heard a more sharply etched orchestral role, but conductor Richard Farnes draws some beautiful moments in Janacek’s passages of otherworldly beauty.