Thursday, May 3, 2012

Makropulos, Janacek's Opera of Obsession

Living out much of his life in provincial Brno, yearning for the recognition and rewards of an international career that could only be won by performances and praise from Prague, Vienna and Berlin. Leos Janacek's life was one of the tensions born of big city dreams and personal and professional frustrations incurred trying to fulfill them. But, would we have the great works born of this very, perhaps necessary, creative hunger if Janacek had not so ferociously struggled and rebelled? 
Vocal nationalist, ethnomusicologist and one of the great composers of the twentieth century opera he finds perhaps the most comprehensive expression of these complex currents in a trilogy of operas dealing with women and love: Jenufa (that brought his first international recognition), Katya Kabanova and finally The Makropulos Case in which all these influences and storms crystallized.

Beyond his political and intellectual restlessness (he endlessly argued with teachers in his youth and contemporaries as he struggled for fame) in later life the full flood of romantic feeling would seize him in his sixties. After a brief infatuation with a singer, Gabriela Horvatova,and while still married to his wife Zdenka, his emotional world was focused and consumed by the figure of Kamila Stosslova, a woman thirty-eight years his junior who he met in 1917 in his 63rd year. She became the object of over 700 letters and a series of works inspired by his feelings for her including the chamber work, Intimate Letters.
In 1922 Janacek would attend a play by the prominent writer Karel Capek, The Makropulos Affair, and immediately send off a letter requesting rights to the work to transform it into an opera. In it all the rebelliousness, caprice, romance and obsessions of his life would take shape in a tale in which what begins as a court case and argument over an inheritance flies wildly out of control. As the drama progresses at the center of the case is the mysterious figure of the opera singer Emilia Marty. Slowly every character is drawn by her into an irresistible and overwhelming thralldom. Lawyers trying to conduct the case, fathers and sons become rivals, men threaten suicide, women envy her beauty and fame from her art. The question of why grows as each becomes more desperate to possess and solve the riddle of her attraction. The answer lay in magic and alchemy and a startling revelation that shocks them all.
Unravel the Mystery that is Emilia Marty in the Metropolitan Opera's final live broadcast this season. Please tune in this Saturday at 11:30 and see the solution to this maddening set of dilemmas. Janacek's Makropulos Case , here on KPAC and KTXI.

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