The two major strands in Leos Janacek’s operas, enchanting fantasy and gritty psychological naturalism, weave into a compelling, mordant melodrama in The Makropulos Affair. It has a rather far-fetched story line–a 300-something diva tries to retrieve the formula for an elixir of youth concocted by an alchemist named Makropulos while fending off the amorous advances of her own great-great-great-grandson and other suitors–but Methuselahian dilemma intrigued writers and philosophers in early-20th-century Europe, including Shaw and Karel Capek, from whose play Janacek adapted the libretto. This was only a few years before the composer’s death, and he seemed to be assuring himself that a fruitful creative life mattered more than biological immortality. His femme fatale is like a vampire condemned to a life of loneliness and ennui–perhaps a comment on the predicament of the modern worker. Janacek’s vivid, hyperexpressive score seems to make the same point by juxtaposing the magical Prague of the late 16th century with the anxiety-ridden Prague of the 20th. For its first production of The Makropulos Affair, Lyric Opera has fielded a reputable cast headlined by soprano Catherine Malfitano, a memorable Lulu for the Lyric a while back. David Alden and Charles Edwards, the director-designer team responsible for the controversial Wozzeck of two seasons ago, are back with a postmodern conception that’s reportedly more tawdry than grotesque. Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric’s longtime music director, conducts. Saturday, Wednesday, and next Saturday, December 16, 7:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 332-2244.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Swannell.