Festival review: The Makropulos Case; Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Yiva Kihlberg as Emilia and Mark Le Brocq as Vitek. Picture: Greg Macvean
Yiva Kihlberg as Emilia and Mark Le Brocq as Vitek. Picture: Greg Macvean
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WHAT woman doesn’t want to look young forever? But how many would buy eternal youthfulness at the price of a 300-year plus lifespan? In 1585, 16-year-old Elina Makropulos had little choice when she was forced to test her father’s elixir of life.

When the opera begins, in her latest incarnation as the 367-year-old diva Emilia Marty, she gets involved in a legal case in order to retrieve the document with the magic potion.

After an underwhelming overture lacking body and focus, the orchestra, under conductor, Richard Farnes settled down to paint Janacek’s sumptuous score in a fabulous array of colours. Scudding timpani and talkative brass provided the mainstay, with the odd ironic comment from percussion.

At times the musical boisterousness eclipsed the singing, particularly in Act One which struggles with a wordy, complicated legal plot. If Opera North had been brave enough to embrace Janacek’s rich, vivid Czech instead of English there wouldn’t have been so many gaps in the musical texture.

Ylva Kihlberg as the heroine looked stiff and uncomfortable in a fake Chanel suit and bad wig. She often sounded underpowered and her lack of a commanding presence didn’t tally with her charismatic, golden-voiced character. But director Tom Cairns kept things moving in what is largely a static first half with the best moment a charming interlude between cleaner Sarah Pring and a technician Matthew Hargreaves.

It was a much stronger second half, with Kihlberg delivering more emotional and vocal depth as Elina’s story and life begins to unravel with the help of whisky and much bouncing on a bed.

Witnessing her demise is a coterie of lovers and lawyers, and a fine ensemble of singers, particularly Paul Nilon (Albert Gregor), Robert Hayward 
(Baron Prus), James Creswell (Dr Kolenaty) and Nigel Robson (Count Hauk-Sendorf).

Rating: ****

• Until today, 7:15pm.