Major Operas | The Makropulos Affair by Leoš Janáček | Modern Era
Janáček referred to this opera’s protagonist, Emilia Marty, as ‘the icy one’. Perhaps he was thinking of Kamila Stösslová, the opera singer in Capek’s comedy who so fascinated Janáček that he immediately requested the rights for a libretto.
The music opens with a prelude, with offstage fanfares that evoke the pageantry of a bygone era, before reverting to a much sparser musical texture. During the climactic ending, Janáček repeats and develops the opening’s sweeping gesture. After Emilia renounces her immortality, the return to this sweeping gesture signals that she embraces the meaning of life in the face of death.
Baron ‘Peppi’ Prus died in 1827. His estate went to the Prus family, but Ferdinand MacGregor claimed it. The Prus and Gregor families have been in litigation ever since.
The final legal judgment is expected. It is Kolenaty’s legal office in Prague in 1922. Albert Gregor is anxious to hear the outcome. The famous opera singer Emilia Marty tells Kolenaty where in the old Prus house he will find a sealed will, leaving the estate to an illegitimate son, Ferdinand. Albert is bewitched and asks about Peppi’s mistress Elian MacGregor. Taking advantage of his infatuation, she asks for a Greek document among the family papers. Kolenaty has found the will, letters from Elian MacGregor and something else. Marty promises to provide written evidence to prove Albert’s case.
Marty has sent a letter from Elian MacGregor confirming Ferdinand’s parentage. In different ways, all the characters, including the present Baron Prus and his son Janek, are fascinated by her. She lets slip that she heard a soprano who died a century ago. Old Hauk-Śendorf says she resembles a gypsy for whom he gave up everything in 1870. Marty calls him ‘Maxi’. He replies ‘Eugenia’. She kisses him and he leaves sobbing. Prus has read the letters, which only refer to E. M. This could be Elian MacGregor, Elina Makropulos, named as Ferdinand’s mother in the birth register, or Emilia Marty. She asks his price. Albert passionately declares his love. She tells him they need another will in the name of Makropulos. Prus agrees to fetch the document.
After a night with Marty, Prus feels cheated by her coldness. He hears that Janek has killed himself for her. Hauk-Śendorf comes to take his Eugenia away. As Marty collects her luggage the others arrive. Kolenaty announces that the letter, dated 1836, has the same ink and handwriting as her own. In her luggage they find an E. M. seal, Hauk-Śendorf’s crest and evidence of other names beginning with E. M. They demand to know her name. She is Elina Makropulos, born in Crete in 1585. She describes how her father, personal physician to Emperor...
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