One can't help but admire the audacity and energy of the elderly Leos Janacek. A couple of weeks ago I reported on the current Welsh National revival of his last opera, From the House of the Dead. Now, it's certainly the turn of his penultimate opera to be highlighted, in the first revival of this highly acclaimed Nikolaus Lehnhoff staging for Glyndebourne, originally mounted two summers ago.
Janacek had just started working on The Cunning Little Vixen when, in 1922, he attended the theatre in Prague to see the recently opened Makropulos Affair by Karel Capek.
He was immediately attracted to the strange and often zany play and soon started to correspond with Kapek in the hope of turning it into an opera. Yet the septuagenarian composer didn't ask the young playwright also to provide him with a libretto. Although already hard at work with a number of other overlapping commissions, Janacek fashioned his own scenario, concentrating on the psychological portrayal of one of the most extraordinary characters in the entire operatic repertoire - the 337-year-old Elina Makropulos.
As a young woman, Elina took a magical elixir of life potion. By the time the opera is set, all she longs for is to pass on elsewhere...
Elina's last moving account of how meaningless life has become for her is accompanied by a haunting slow-waltz finale. It brilliantly caps an opera that fizzles along with invention, due to the composer's remarkable ability to shape theatrical dialogues and create a gamut of swiftly changing musical atmospheres.
Lehnhoff's production certainly keeps apace with all that bravura. Ravishingly designed by Tobias Hoheisel, the at times eerie, at times ludicrously surreal tone is very healthily maintained. Equally, the cast of major Janacekians also rises to the occasion, lead by by the redoubtable Anja Silja as Elina, playing, the character's alter-ego of Emilia Marty, the famous opera singer. At its last outing, conductor Andrew Davis also gave a magnificent account of the score with the London Philharmonic.
EYE ON THE NEW
In a highly worthwhile fundraising concert for the Handel House Museum, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Westminster Abbey Choir, under the baton of Martin Neary, join forces for the composer's last great oratorio, Jephta. Westminster Abbey (Handel is buried there) 24 Jun, 7pm (Info and bookings 0171-222 6923)Reuse content