Nadja Michael gives timeless performance in SF Opera’s ‘Makropulos Case’

German soprano Nadja Michael, singing the lead role of San Francisco Opera’s revival of Olivier Tambosi’s riveting production of Leoš Janáček’s “The Makropulos Case,” is exceptional as a woman who has lived for more than 300 years, sweeping men off their feet, possessing extraordinary powers and, quite likely, the elixir of life.

Last seen at the Opera House in 2010, the production marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. premiere in San Francisco of Janáček’s penultimate opera.

A wall clock onstage symbolically ticks off the time left in the life of a mysterious woman who was born in 1537, yet nonetheless appears lively and magnetic in 1920s Prague to advocate the inheritance claim of Albert Gregor in the case Prus v. Gregor.

The woman in question is prima donna Emilia Marty, neé Elina Makropulos, the daughter of Austrian Emperor Rudolf II’s court physician Hieronymus Makropulos.

Makropulos devised a potion for immortality that the emperor forced him to test on his daughter. Though initially causing Elina to fail ill — and land her father in prison — the elixir succeeds in extending her life through centuries and several identities, all with the initials E.M.

On Friday night, Michael delivered a commanding, seductive performance, secure throughout her range, in powerful voice, and strikingly attired. The vampish platinum blonde was splendid in her Act 3 Givenchy cream-colored strapless gown as she offered her exquisite farewell to the world.

Marty desperately seeks her father’s formula (for a much-needed pick-me-up), but instructions for the elixir were left with the contested will at the center of the inheritance case; the case affects a descendant of the son born of her liaison with Baron Prus (when she was 19th century Scottish singer Ellen MacGregor).

Marty captivates men in her quest for the elixir and brushes them off when she is done with each.

Tenor Charles Workman is an ardent, though somewhat forced, Gregor; authoritative baritone Stephen Powell is the current Baron Prus; and the appealing tenor Brenton Ryan is Prus’ son Janek.

Solid contributions also come from bass-baritone Dale Travis as suspicious attorney Dr. Kolenaty; tenor Joel Sorensen as law clerk Vitek; soprano Julie Adams as Vitek’s daughter Kristina; tenor Matthew O’Neill as Count Hauk-Sendorf; mezzo-soprano Zanda Svede as a cleaning woman and a chambermaid; and bass-baritone Brad Walker as a stagehand.

Ian Robertson’s chorus effectively echoes Marty’s final adieu as the potion formula literally goes up in smoke, and making his SFO debut, Mikhail Tatarnikov decisively conducts the orchestra with precision and flair.

REVIEW
The Makropulos Case
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct 18, Oct. 26 and Oct. 29, 2 p.m. Oct. 23
Tickets: $26 to $333
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com

James Ambroff-Tahan
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James Ambroff-Tahan

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