Following up on the opening of Gaetano Donizetti’s light-hearted Don Pasquale this past Wednesday, San Francisco Opera (SFO) will continue its 2016–17 season with a revival of Leoš Janáček’s darkly enigmatic The Makropulos Affair (one possible English translation of the Czech Věc Makropulos, the title of both the opera and the play by Karel Čapek on which it is based). The staging by Olivier Tambosi was last seen in the War Memorial Opera House in November of 2010, when this co-production with the Finnish National Opera was first presented. Tambosi himself will return to oversee the revival, this time working with Russian conductor Mikhail Tatarnikov, who will be making his SFO debut.
The dark enigma concerns a seemingly young woman (soprano Nadja Michael), initially introduced to us as Emilia Marty. The action begins in a law office that has been occupied with a probate case so complex that it has been going on for almost a century. Marty is a famous singer involved in the intricacies of this case, whose complexities turn out to involve another singer named Ellian MacGregor. By the third act we discover that Marty is actually Elina Makropulos, born in 1585 to the alchemist Hieronymus Makropulos, who had prepared a portion for extended life and tested it on her.
In this production tenor Charles Workman will make his SFO debut in the role of Albert Gregor, who is smitten with Marty. The legal complications are based on a dispute between the middle-class Gregor family and the aristocratic Prus family, represented by Baron Jaroslav Prus, sung by baritone Stephen Powell. The case is being managed by the lawyer Dr. Kolenatý (bass-baritone Dale Travis), assisted by his clerk Vitek (tenor Joel Sorenson). Vitek’s daughter Kristina (soprano and Adler fellow Julie Adams) aspires to be a famous singer, who longs for Marty’s currently level of fame and renown.
Janáček prepared his own libretto for this opera. His comprehension of Čapek’s complex narrative enabled Janáček to use music to lead his audience through this tightly-knit web of social interconnection that crosses both space and time. Using Janáček’s insights as a point of departure, Tambosi, who had prepared such a compelling staging of Janáček’s Jenůfa this past June, provided all the right dramatic machinery to facilitate the traversal of that complex social web.
Věc Makropulos will be given five performances, all sung in Czech, at 7:30 p.m. on October 14, 18, 29, and 29 and at 2 p.m. on October 23. Performances will take place at the War Memorial Opera House at 301 Van Ness Avenue, on the northwest corner of Grove Street. Single tickets are priced from $26 to $417. Tickets may be purchased online through an event page on the SFO Web site that provides hyperlinks for each performance. Tickets may also be purchased at the Box Office in the outer lobby of the Opera House. Standing room tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. on the day of each performance. They are sold for $10, cash only.