Marty, Emilia

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(Janáček: The Makropulos Case). Sop. An operatic soprano, originally Elina Makropulos, now 337 years old as a result of being given the elixir of life invented by her father, Hieronymous Makropulos, court physician to the Habsburg Emperor Rudolf II, in 1565. If she does not have a further dose, she will soon die. She has travelled the world, changing her name each generation to avoid being exposed. As Ellian MacGregor, a Scottish singer in the early 19th cent., she had an affair in Prague with a Baron Prus and in 1817 had a son, Ferdinand. The late Baron's estate went to his cousin, but then a Ferdinand Gregor appeared and claimed the right to it. The lawsuit has continued for 100 years. As Eugenia Montez, a gypsy girl and her next generation persona, she had a long affair with Count Hauk-Šendorf. Now, in 1922, she is the opera singer Emilia Marty. She is tired of living and world-weary. She is concerned only with memories and her fear of death. She tells the lawyer Kolenatý that she knows of a will hidden in Prus's house which will prove Gregor's claims and tells Gregor of his ancestor's Scottish mother and of the existence of the child who was Prus's illegitimate son. In her theatre dressing-room, she welcomes the batty old Count Hauk-Šendorf, much to everyone else's amazement—she seems to know him. The will is found (exactly where she tells them to look), and with it a second envelope (which she knows to contain the formula for the elixir). She spends the night with Prus in exchange for the envelope and its contents. When she leaves the room to dress, Kolenatý, Gregor, and the rest search through her trunk, and find in it documents in the various names she has used. As she recounts the whole story to them all, she gradually ages until, as an old woman, she gives the formula to the youngest person present, Kristina (daughter of Kolenatý's clerk), who burns it as Emilia Marty dies.

This role is a great opportunity for a singing actress, covering the whole range of emotions—for most of the opera she seems to be cold and calculating—except in the episode with old Hauk—but as the truth emerges and she feels that death would be a welcome relief, she becomes much softer in her manner. Janáček in his letters repeatedly referred to her as ‘the cold one’ or ‘the icy one’ and at times hinted that she resembled Kamila Stösslová, the young married woman who was his muse in the last years of his life. In a famous production by Sadler's Wells first seen in 1964, which put the opera on the map in England, Marie Collier played Emilia Marty and did appear to age before the audience's eyes in the last act. It was a remarkable performance. Other successful exponents of the role include Libuše Prylová, Elisabeth Söderström, Hildegard Behrens, Anja Silja, and Kristine Ciesinski. Created (1926) by Alexandra Čvanová.

Subjects: Opera.

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