For the longest time the classic 1995 Glyndebourne recording of Janáček’s Věk Makropulos was the only video option. It’s now been re-released on DVD and Blu-ray in a completely remastered version. I watched the Blu-ray and it’s as well restored as the companion recording of Peter Sellars’ equally classic Theodora. As it’s drawn from a Channel 4 broadcast the picture is 4:3 and it’s presented here formatted for wide screens in what is, apparently, called “pillarbox” mode in the UK. At any event, the picture is excellent; certainly the equal of many more recent recordings, if not quite of the best HD quality. The sound, stereo only, is decent but a bit “boxed in” and the voices often seem to balanced a long way back.
The production is by Nikolaus Lehnhoff and it’s simple and elegant with a room lined with stacks of files for the lawyer’s office and simple curved spaces for everything else. There are piles of boxes and luggage monogrammed with “EM” all over the place. It works. Central to the piece is the performance of Anja Silva as Emilia Marty. She was 55 at the time but the voice seems still in very good shape and she acts superbly creating an appropriate sense of timelessness for the still youthful 327 year old character. Her performance in the last 15 minutes alone is worth the price of the disk. The supporting performances are pretty decent too. Andrew Shore plays the lawyer Kolenatý as a fussy pedant, Kim Begley sings rather beautifully and ardently as the young Albert Gregor and Victor Braun is a very dignified Baron Prus. Andrew Davis conducts the London Philharmonic and, as he always seems to, brings out the details in the score with great clarity.
Brian Large directed for TV and, as the work is fairly intimate, his usual close up approach works quite well. He does do a bit of a Captain Obvious act during the orchestral interludes, repeatedly panning across the multiple “EM” monograms. There are no extras on the disk. The booklet (English only) contains a synopsis and an essay by Rodney Milnes. Subtitles are English only.
There are only two video recordings of this work in the catalogue. The other is a much more recent and technically superior Salzburg production with Angela Denoke. It’s very good but I think for anyone with an interest in Janáček’ will want to see both. Especially as this re-release is bargain priced.