(The Makropulos Case—Janáček) by Nigel Douglas
The Slav repertoire is rich in sharply etched cameos for a character tenor, but in my experience there is none to compete with Hauk (The Makropulos Affair): in terms of potential impact on the audience per minute spent on stage it is a miniature masterpiece.
It is always amusing, I find, to sketch in for one's self the past history of the characters whom one has to play, and I envisage Hauk's early days as something along these lines. Back in 1870, when he was 20 years old, he visited Andalusia and engaged in a torrid affair with a gypsy girl named Eugenia Montez. His family hauled him home to Prague, married him off to someone dull and plain but socially suitable, and deceived him into believing that his gypsy girl was dead. Since then fifty years have passed and, in his own words, Hauk's existence has been a sort of sleepwalk—until last night, when, on the stage of the Prague Opera, there suddenly appeared before him an apparent reincarnation of his long‐lost love.
When you enter for Hauk's first scene, shuffling on some ten minutes after the beginning of Act 2, the public is as baffled as Emilia Marty herself—who can this old lunatic be, sobbing pathetically and having apparently no logical connection with anyone or anything around him? As he attempts, however, somehow to make Marty understand that she is the living image of the woman for whom he sacrificed everything, Janačék gives us a sudden flash of the man Hauk used to be. The orchestra erupts without warning into a fiery flamenco rhythm as the old boy momentarily relives his days of erotic splendour. As he lapses back after only a couple of dozen bars into a lament for his own lost sanity, a state of mind achingly evoked in the strings, the penny drops with Emilia and she calls him by her old pet name of ‘Maxi’. Briefly the two of them re‐enact the feverish embraces of yesteryear, and although within moments her mood has passed and it is time for him to totter off again, back into his dreamlike existence, what the audience has just witnessed is the only instance during the whole opera of Emilia treating a fellow human being with anything other than contempt.
Naturally, no two directors approach so multifaceted a character from the same angle, and it goes without saying that there are some nowadays who have such charming ideas as decreeing that he should be in the final stages of syphilis. I, however, have been fortunate in that the two directors who have guided my steps in the role, David Pountney and Nikolaus Lehnhoff, both believe in using the score as the source of their ideas. They came up with sharply contrasted readings, Pountney emphasizing the lovable dottiness of the figure, while Lehnhoff saw him as a faded dandy, somewhere between the Elderly Fop in Britten's Death in Venice and the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. But as neither version conflicts with Janáček's inspiration, both are intensely rewarding to perform.