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Věc Makropulos - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
Věc Makropulos
For the first time this season we had to take shelter under the canopy of the Royal Albert Hall during the afternoon, as showers unpleasantly came and went. The queue was small, but perhaps larger than I'd expected; I heard one or two people say that, like me, they had been to the concert on Wednesday and taken a break on Thursday, to come back for Friday, for a performance of Janáček's The Makropulos Affair; evidently Karita Mattila is a big draw.

In the pre-Prom talk, the speakers discussed the history of the piece, its transformation from Capek's comedy to operatic tragedy, the difficulty of translation (Věc translating literally as "thing", but more often as "case" or "affair"; in fact maybe "secret" or "formula" would be even better), and more widely the adoption of Janáček's oeuvre into the English-speaking world.

So, somewhat better equipped for having skimmed the programme and attended the talk, the performance began, with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Conductor Jiří Bělohlávek and Mattila were not the only familiar performers, as several other cast members were also shared with the performance of Jenůfa I'd seen Royal Festival Hall a few months ago. This time, however, I was much closer up - on the rail in fact - and it was quite striking how much energy they put into projecting their voices out into the Hall. During the talk, it was said that you couldn't mistake the music for anyone other than Janáček, which is true. Another thing that was commented on was the "modern" settings - a lawyer's office, a theatre stage, a hotel room - yet for all that, the plot stems from a medieval absurdity: that a sixteenth century physician was commissioned by Emperor Rudolf II to produce an elixir for 300 years of extra life, and that the potion was tested on the physician's daughter, who fell unconscious for a week. The physician was imprisoned, but the daughter escaped and recovered - and lived for a further 300 years, into the 1920s. She has gone by many different names over time, always with the initials "E M", and now gives uncanny insights into a long-running legal case, seeking in return her father's documents, the destruction of which will set her free. Mattila stole the show, but I also liked particularly the genial performance of Jan Vacík as Vitek, the lawyer's assistant.


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