Cher Public

Miss Mattila is ageless

mattila_fever_thumbLa Cieca has managed to nab a few moments of video of tonight’s performance of Vec Makropulos from San Francisco, proving that Karita Mattila is indeed today’s ideal interpreter of the role of Emilia Marty. [Video]


    Or the video from the actual production could work.

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

      She looks like Joan Rivers !

      • mandryka

        Delectable and correct observation !


    She sounds and looks stunning. I cannot wait to see her essay ths role in live production. Unfortunately SF is not an option right now. If we can just keep her away from the Italian rep then all would be right with the world.

  • atalaya

    Jimmy didn’t make it to Act 3 tonight. Stagehand removed his chair at the break. Stage manager announcement followed.


    I just got a text from a friend who was there and was about to post. Well he can’t go on the way he has forever. I hope that he recovers quickly.

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield

    Not a patch on Helen Field in teh role!

    • Regina delle fate

      I don’t think Helen Field has ever sung Emilia Marty! But never mind. You probably meant Lorna Haywood.

  • Camille

    Magical Mattila Makropulos.

    GO GURL!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Why did Levine not conduct the last act of Pasquale last night?

    • Quanto Painy Fakor

    • NYCOQ

      QPF -- he did not feel well and could not finish the performance.

  • m. croche

    Disordered thoughts:

    Saw La Mattila tonight -- this is a pretty gratifying role for her, particularly in the duets with Albert Gregor, Hauk-Sendof and most especially in the last half of the third act, where she was mostly stunning. The lower register isn’t always her friend -- she belts out a few words and phrases as a substitute -- but more than compensates with beautifully-spun lines at the close.

    And those legs! She has perhaps grown more limber since Salome -- various calf-raising calisthenics culminate in some splits she does while capering on the floor with Hauk-Sendof.

    Speaking of legs, I kinda feel a lot of the singers were hamstrung with clumsy stage direction: Mattila was more ditzy than elegant in the first act. It’s one way to interpret the role, I guess, but it’s a bit at odds with the iciness others perceive in Emilia Marty. More distracting were the apparent diabetic comas into which she would fall while other characters sang. Her incipient death was telegraphed very early on in a way that drains the conclusion of its shock (i.e. seeing the vivacious Marty suddenly gravely ill.)

    The rest of their cast were remarkably disciplined with their roles -- not a good deal of overacting to be seen. Gerd Grochowski’s nicely captured Baron Prus’ hauteur and Miro Dvorsky kept up well with the taxing role of Albert Gregor. Many of the other characters didn’t exactly fill the house with their presence, but Susannah Biller has a nicely pretty voice for star-struck Kristina, Maya Lahyani’s servant/chambermaid were sympathetic and Dale Travis was an interesting Kolenaty -- not a caricature of a lawyer but amiably boring.

    The orchestra coped. Cross-rhythms in different sections of the orchestra weren’t tautly interwoven. Sitting in the center of the orchestra, the timpani and brass too frequently drowned out the rest of the orchestra (ruinously in the Act I introduction). This is an extremely difficult, transparent score -- it’s immediately apparent when players flub demanding solos or sections are smeared. There were moments where it felt like Belohlavek was just directing traffic to keep it all together. There’s plenty of room for improvement over the course of the run.

    Such a great piece though -- and a nice antidote to the current crop of immortal teenage vampires.

    Celebrity note: seated a few rows ahead was Rufus Wainwright, in town for something with the symphony. He had on this plaid-tartany longcoat that might have either come from the bleachers of a Wisconsin Football Saturday or perhaps from the Fire Island Highland Games.

    Eh, que le manteau est bizarre!

    • reedroom

      Thanks for that great review! Wish I were there…

    • Camille

      So happy to hear it was a success. I do so look forward to seeing her in this role next season at the Met.

      Thanks a bunch for your thoughts,
      m. croche.

      Um. The tartan thing — what clan did it belong to, if you can?

      • m. croche

        And a’ that’s Scotch aboot it is the name,
        Like a’thing else ca’d Scottish nooadays --
        -- A’destitute o’speerit juist the same.

        • Camille

          Monsieur m. Croche —
          Nerci, mais je suis desolee de vous dire que je ne parle ni entends pas l’ecossais!

          I only drink scotch, Bushmills, to be exact.

          Think I got the gist of it, though, and I’ll assume the Wainwright tartan was a bewitching pink and green cheque.

          • m. croche

            Tee hee -- no it was stadium-blanket red with some stripes in black and other colors. But there are hundreds of tartan patterns out there, I have a terrible visual memory, and all the clan associations are bunk anyway.

            And I’m pretty sure that after a wee dram or two of Laphroaig you’d understand Scotch perfectly….

          • m. croche

            er, “Scots”, not “Scotch”.

          • Camille

            That’s all right m. croche
            — you have to drink Scotch to understand Scots, anyhoo….

    • Batty Masetto

      I really agree about the direction, only more so. I caught the dress, so I don’t know if she still stayed perched on that desk, uncomfortably and seemingly forever, in the first act -- for no reason at all. Maybe it got fixed. Maybe it was Karita’s own idea, but somebody should have nixed it. Fine to get her up there to make a point or two, but then get her down again, for pete’s sake, rather than leaving her to skootch around uneasily while she tries to sing.

      What I found disappointing about how the supporting cast was handled is that you never got their growing awareness of Emilia’s uncanniness. That’s what turns the opera into something more than a star turn about an eccentric character.

      There was also no sense of the ties between the characters -- there are two father-child relationships in this piece, and neither one was handled believably. It’s not that hard, a few brief, carefully highlighted interactions would take care of it -- along the lines of the way Kristina’s first entrance was handled. And having Gregor carry on as though nothing were wrong while Emilia is writhing in some kind of seizure was just silly, given the more or less realistic parameters of the production’s style.

      Also, the clock is a terrific visual statement, but having it show the real time is a crazy mistake -- telling you exactly how long the show is taking is like having somebody next to you constantly looking at his watch.

      Lots of other quibbles -- unmotivated crosses, unexplained moving of furniture, characters left just standing somewhere, stuff like that. But the stage pictures were very effective, the blocking didn’t actively get in the way of the story, and Karita swept all reservations away.

      • batty, she did stand on the desk at the prima.

        that being said, it felt right to me. BUT, i was in the third to last row of the balcony, so there wasn’t as much difference between standing on a desk or on the stage from that perspective ;-)

        i hear what you’re saying about character dev. i was telling my friend that for some reason janacek’s men always seem like blithering idiots, ignoring all real signs, and feeling rather cartoon-y. this was no exception. i suppose it’s a bit like with strauss, where he just wrote for the chicas…gave them all the glorious music and melodies, and the men are more ciphers.

        that being said, i did enjoy Prus, and the Idiot (matthew o’neill was brilliant an hilarious).

        • SF Guy

          I’m going next Tuesday--will give y’all my two cents afterwards.

          • Camille

            Thanks, SFGuy. Hope you all get there.

        • m. croche

          I wouldn’t call the men in Makropulos (or Vixen or Dead) “blithering idiots”. I think Janacek is quite affectionate in treating their all-too-human foibles. One sympathizes with their pointless strivings and puffery. I think it’s this great capacity for empathy (allowing us to feel even for a cold fish like Baron Prus at the end) which is one of Janacek’s great strengths as a musical dramatist.

        • Batty Masetto

          I agree with m.c. -- It’s the staging (or bad acting) that can make them look like dopes, not the score. The Makropulos men are self-absorbed but not unintelligent (though as Elina says, Gregor is way too impulsive). They know what they want, and they also begin to pick up clues. Prus especially.

      • spiderman

        disagreed! the ties in the supporting cast were there but very subtle. i think it is a very realistic and unoperatic but nevertheless strinking characterization. it’s deffinitely one of the more prezise direction work i have witnessed lately

        • Batty Masetto

          Spider, the acting may have been too subtle to carry to the Dress Circle where I was -- hardly at the back of the house. That’s one problem: we complain when a voice is too small for the house, but not when the acting is too constricted to carry. I’m not talking about overacting here: I guarantee good non-singing stage actors could have made the connections both genuine and visible, and Mattila, Dessay and other strong singing actors have no such problem. So it may have partly been a question of too little rehearsal time or insufficient acting technique. Both are endemic issues in directing opera.

          But a second problem is that the director has a responsibility to include certain moves -- let’s call them “moments” -- in the blocking that will carry the point even for those who aren’t in a position to read the performers’ facial expressions. There were not enough of those moments, and believe me I was hungering to see them them if I could have.

          • spiderman

            well i did see them, i saw the acting technique i was happy there was subtlety and no overacting and i wonder if we do just have two different expectations.

          • Batty Masetto

            Of course you saw it. It just didn’t carry to wherever I was. I’m pretty sure it’s what m.c. meant by “not exactly filling the house with their presence.”

            I too would rather see underplaying than overacting (though I’d rather not have to see either one). And it may well be that the acting in the secondary roles will become stronger and better defined as the run goes on and the performers gain confidence with the production.

        • m. croche

          I think it’s possible to overstate the subtlety of the direction and/or acting. Leaving Emilia Marty aside, Tambosi and/or the actors were perfectly willing to use broader strokes on occasion. When the clerk Vitek enters in Act I he is weighed down with a substantial pile of legal folders and documents. Naturally he spills them in great confusion. This is not in the score. It works just fine in the opera house to help visualize the size and complexity of the Gregor-Prus case, but let’s face it: this isn’t exactly Lee Strasberg stuff.

          If the dumping of the legal documents was over-broad (in spoken-theater if not operatic terms) other aspects of the portrayal of Vitek seemed underdrawn. Vitek probably should be older, or at least seem old. The type of guy who observes life while seldom participating in it, which is why he’s always talking to himself. When he suddenly launches into his speech from Danton, the Walter-Mitty interior life of the mousy clerk is surprisingly (delightfully) revealed to us.

          I didn’t really get much of that from this performance and I was in row T. This was a young (even a bit dandified?) Vitek whose bustling about was rather generic. When it came, Danton’s speech didn’t bring out, for me, new notes in the character.

          So some things are too much, some too little. I find myself in agreement with Batty overall: all honor to the restraint generally shown by Tambosi and the cast, but sometimes many fine details of character are not effectively put across. And the mistakes and clumsiness of the blocking noted by Batty is not something that can be chalked up to directorial minimalism.

  • reedroom

    I had toyed with the idea of flying down to see this, but was limited to Thanksgiving time, but with all the extra bother (and cost) that comes with traveling at that time, just never got my act together. I have liked her in everything I’ve ever seen her in (the non-Italian rep), and I think she’s superb.

  • bumped into rufus wainright in the ticket line. he looked dashing and quirky…wearing a plaid red long coat. his presence added to the allure of the opening.

    mattila was demented, insane, genius, unforgettable!

    i really liked the production. the sketchy and monochromatic black & white quality of the set reminded me a hair of the hockney “rake’s progress” here a decade ago, which i also liked.

  • spiderman

    A terrific evening with a demented Mattila in a wonderful production!!!

    I think we should give credits to Mr Tambosi. We know Karita is fabulous but we could see both in Tosca and Salome that she tends to do some really strange things on stage when she is not directed well. Something that never happened in Jenufa, Manon Lescaut or this time in Makropoulos…

  • SF Guy

    For Camille and other interested parties--the first Makropulos reviews are in, and they’re extremely favorable:

    (SF Chronicle)

    (SJ Mercury News)

    • richard

      This is something I’d really love to see. I first saw the opera was I was still very young and loved the outlandish , impossible plot. Plus that wonderful music at the very end. It’s a wonderful role for the right kind of soprano and my thinking is that it should suit Mattila very well.

      Met Futures lists a Mattila Macropoulos for early 2012. I’m hoping it holds and likewise Mattila, that’s a must see for me.

  • sfmike

    Saw it opening night from standing room in the top balcony with a pair of opera glasses. It’s one of the best productions of opera I’ve ever seen, with all the planets of casting, conductor and production magically aligned.

    Jiri Belohlavek, making his SF debut, doesn’t make the orchestra sound anything like my favorite Janacek conductor, the recently deceased Charles Mackerras, but it’s a great performance by him and the orchestra nonetheless with its own Brno authenticity. You can hear lots of things in the music that you’ve never heard before. The simple, turntable production is quite beautiful and the weird blocking isn’t really a problem. It’s a weird tale, and the 300+ year old falling asleep out of nowhere is in the libretto.

    Karita Mattila sang in San Francisco in the early 1990s when she was just starting her international career, and we got to hear her in “Idomeneo” (Ilia), “Meistersinger,” and “Lohengrin,” where she was wonderful. “Katya Kabanova” much later on was a great performance sabotaged by a dumb regie production, while her recent stab at “Manon Lescaut” struck me as misguided as her reported outings as Tosca. As Emilia Marty in “Makropulos” she’s found a role that is perfect for her age, the state of her voice, her glamour, and her acting chops. I’ve never seen this opera actually work before, so this is an amazing achievement. Mattila is officially a goddess, turning us all into foolish suitors.

    I’m going back next Tuesday.

  • m. croche

    There is nothing in the first act of the score which corresponds to the coma into which Mattila falls while Gregor sings. In the second act she’s asleep for all of 20 bars.

    • sfmike

      Sorry, got my comas mixed up, but it still didn’t bother me. If I were 300+ years old, sudden catnaps in the middle of somebody else’ boring to me narrative would seem quite sensible.

  • SF Guy

    Camille et al--Just got back from Makropulos; loved the production and Mattila’s fearlessly unsympathetic performance. For much of the first act she physicalizes Emilia exactly like a petulant old woman growing into undignified second childhood, preoccupied with nothing but her own needs and falling into frequent catnaps, the joke being that her gorgeous exterior prevents everyone else from picking up on this. The amount of time she spends on that desktop seemed consistent with her approach--“I’ve been around long enough to act any damn way I want to; whatcha gonna do about it?”

    In the context of the stylized b/w cross-hatching, suggesting a surrealistic graphic novel, the anachronisms of the 1950’s look weren’t a problem, and (much more important) allowed Mattila to look really fabulous.

    This remains one of my least favorite Janacek operas (no juicy dramatic conflicts, lots of talk and belated exposition), but Mattila makes it spellbinding anyway. She didn’t start out that way, but immortality has made this woman as soulessly monstrous as Salome. The others watch her final moments with horror, and they sure don’t waste any time burning that formula.

    Here’s what Classical Voice had to say;

    • Camille

      Oh SFGuy! I forgot to give a Big old shoutout of Gracias for this! Especially for delineation of her characterization which is always interesting, but she seems to have outdone herself this time. I am so pleased and happy for her after that terrible Tosca mess last year. She is a real champ to pull this off and I can hardly wait till it comes to the MET. Go Girl from Finland!

    • Batty Masetto

      Nice to know she appears to have gotten more comfortable during the run. I don’t care in principle whether she climbs on a desk or swings from a trapeze, but at the dress she looked so damn uncomfortable up there on that desk -- uncertain balance, crouching uneasily in her high heels, having to shift around within a cramped space when it would be so much easier to just get down -- that it seemed like just the opposite of acting any way she pleased. Anyhow it’s a powerful characterization for sure.

      But you put your finger on something I really do think is a shortcoming in the production, not in the work itself -- the juice lies in the suspense, which is formidable and comes from the gradual peeling away of the truth about Emilia. And in a certain sense you can really only see that through the gradual transformations in the other characters’ reactions. Which I didn’t, and it sounds like maybe you didn’t either. Sure they’re fascinated at the start and appalled at the end, but how do they get there? What’s their journey?

      • SF Guy

        Three performances into the run, Mattila owns that table. However, kicking around documents in stiletto heals is still comes a bit awkwardly, even when they’re lying on the floor.

        This production doesn’t seem particularly interested in generating suspense; the grahpic-novel look to the design reminded me that Cunning Little vixen was based on a daily comic, and this Makropulos is Vixen turned inside out, a darkly comic morality tale about the folly of thwarting the cycles of death and renewal. The music has the power of Vixen, but unnaturally sliced and diced, unable to come to fully developed climaxes; it seethes and churns without resolution, just like Emilia’s existence.

        In Act 3, Emilia turns into one nasty drunk, so that even the dimmest of her admirers finally see the truth. “You think I care that you’re my grandson, Berti? There must be thousands of my brats out there by now.” “‘Lady’? I haven’t been a lady for centuries.” Emilia hasn’t cared for anyone but herself for longer than she can remember--as the others realize, she’s seen it all, everybody dies on her, it’s all a blur, and what’s the point of caring about any of it.? The only thing that changes is that she stops caring about herself as well. Mattila’s Emilia is a monster--indifferent, callous, selfish to the bone, and death does nothing to enoble her or restore her humanity. I liked the fact that in this production the destruction of the forumula was more a collective act of revulsion and less a decision by Kristina to turn down this particular beauty tip. I’m sure there are other equally valid ways to approach the piece, but I thought this one was compelling and worked better for me than the 1993 production with Stephanie Sundine, my only previous encounter in live performance.