A guide to The Makropulos Affair

16 August 2022

With its intense drama and mesmerising score, it’s a wonder that Janáček’s The Makropulos Affair  is not performed more regularly. With themes of love, crime, tragedy all tied up into one explosive plot, this opera certainly has something for everyone to enjoy. With only a month to go until Welsh National Opera’s exhilarating new production goes on tour across the UK, let’s take a look at what you can expect.

The scene opens in a lawyer’s office. Vitek, the clerk, states that a probate case involving the Gregor family has been going on for almost a century following the death of Baron Joseph Ferdinand Prus who died in 1827, leaving behind no will or legitimate children. Both the Gregor family and the aristocratic Prus family have claimed the estate, but neither have been able to provide an official will.

Kolenaty, the lawyer representing the Gregors, arrives at the office with the beautiful, enigmatic diva, Emilia Marty in tow. Emilia claims that she learnt about the case that morning and wants to know more. Kolenaty agrees to go over the details of the case with her, and after much conversation, Emilia believes that she knows where the will is kept; in a cupboard within the Prus mansion. Immediately, Kolenaty heads to the mansion to investigate. Returning with the will, he declares that the Gregors can obtain the estate if he can prove that he is the out-of-wedlock son of the Baron. Emilia is confident that she can do this.

Enchanted by her beauty, several of the male characters, including Kolenaty, make advances on Emilia. She coldly declines them until the Baron Jaroslav Prus promises to secure the will for Emilia if she spends the night with him. Agreeing to this transaction, Emilia spends the night with Jaroslav and receives the document.

So, who is Emilia Marty and why is she so interested in this complicated case? Emilia reveals that her true identity is Elina Makropulos and that she is immortal. Born in 1585, Elina has hidden behind various identities over her 300 years, living different lives and moving across different countries. Her immortality has been achieved through a potion concocted by her father, but after giving the formular to the Baron Joseph to put in his will, Elina reveals that she now needs the potion to ensure that she can live another 300 years. Will Elina prolong her immortality, or will she accept mortality as her fate?

Olivia Fuchs’s fantastic new production forms part of our Autumn Season, which will be touring the UK between 16 September and 2 December. Performances will be conducted by WNO Music Director, Tomáš Hanus, who is not only a Janáček expert but grew up on the very same street as the composer. We’re certain that this production will bring Janáček’s work to life in a way that you’ve never experienced before.