Radio Review – The Makropoulos Case (Metropolitan Opera)

This afternoon’s radio broadcast of Janacek’s The Makropoulos Case was my first time hearing the opera in full. I have seen clips of it on the internet, but was worried that I would be confused by the music without any visuals. As it happened, that wasn’t necessary. Karita Mattila, although probably past her vocal prime, has an incredible way of portraying her character’s moods and actions solely through her voice so that I never felt like I didn’t understand the story. What could have been a better introduction to this fascinating character and opera?

(c) Ken Howard

Janacek’s writing for Emilia Marty has a lot of leaping intervals that do not show of Mattila’s voice too well – she is now uncomfortable in her higher register, with some pushed high notes and a middle register with little vibrato and breathy tone. However, she utilized these different colours in her voice to great dramatic effect, and almost every note was inflected differently. She is able to vocalize changes of moods very effectively, particularly the sarcastic tone she uses when taunting the Baron. Personally, my favourite part was the very end, where she warmed up her tone and slowly morphed into the 300 year-old woman.

Thankfully, the Met has hired an excellent supporting cast in what is usually a diva showpiece. Richard Leech, who has not sung at the Met for a number of years, replaced Kurt Streit on late notice as Albert Gregor. Although he has a lovely voice, he seemed to be trying far too hard to be heard, and as a result his singing came across as being pushed and far too loud. In contrast, Baron Prus sang warmly and managed to fill the house without any sign of pressure. I certainly hope he will return to the Met, perhaps as Wozzeck or Barak. Emalie Savoy as Kristina has a lovely voice and a good grasp of the music, but she sounded uncertain. The rest of the roles were also very good, with Alan Oke standing out as Vitek.

(c) Ken Howard

Conductor Jiri Belohlavek conducted very, very well, and brought out many subtleties in the score while maintaining and clarifying the overall structure of the piece. While not all the singing was perfect and I was not able to see it in house, it was enough to pique my interest in this opera and I look forward to exploring it more.

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