23 February 2017, Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Great show by the National Theatre Brno with an interesting premise. Czech composer Janáček’s most famous work, interpreted from Karel Čapek’s play. I went in with no expectations. It’s not often that I watch opera (still learning how to appreciate the artform), but when I do, I often enjoy it because it’s usually a spectacle.
Four things I particularly liked about this production:
First, the theme. Opera rarely presents complex plots and themes but this one did: the desirability of immortality. In The Makropulos Case, the female protagonist Elina Makropulos (who went by different E.M. initialed names) was coming to the end of 300 years of youth that an immortality elixir had granted her. During the three centuries, she had made great accomplishments including achieving a beautiful performance voice. But she had also faced generations of losing loved ones, and was numb to the trivialities of everyday life. Is human life fulfilled by the unavoidability of death? Is life given value because you are on the road to achieving goals and fulfilling desires which immortality may render tedious or boring? Is a purposeless life like living death? We humankind are constantly looking for ways to prolong life, as longevity supposedly promises greater achievements. Yet when does it become enough?
Second, the cast was fantastic. The female lead singer had an incredible voice. And I was frankly mind boggled at the score – to me the notes the singers sang bore a tangential relationship to the notes played by the orchestra. It was like a parrot singing (beautifully) to a hummingbird. And it was extremely syncopated.
I loved how the scene changes were done as part of the show, cleverly woven into the plot. From the office scene to the next, they talked about E.M.’s performance so it was done to imitate a theatre set change. The set was also exposed
so you could see structure of the backdrop boards, which added a nice modern touch. And the last scene where the chorus came on behind the main cast, and stood in diagonal angles in the shadow, all facing different directions.. very effective!
I also appreciated how the opera was in Czech and the surtitles must’ve been simplified, giving us just enough information to go by. The surtitles weren’t distracting and you weren’t constantly going back and forth between the words and the stage. And on top of that, opera in a foreign language – the way I like it! Opera in a native language always just seems a bit too melodramatic 😛
Going back to my first point, coincidentally, a friend sent a link to a Neil deGrasse Tyson interview tonight, who said “It is the knowledge that I’m going to die that creates the focus that I bring to being alive. The urgency of accomplishment, the need to express love. Now, not later. If you live forever, why even get out of bed in the morning? Because you’ll always have tomorrow….” He’s then asked if he fears death, to which he responds “Be ashamed to die, until you have scored some victory for humankind.” Nice.