Past events or the Gregor ./. Prus affair
The legal dispute between the Gregor and Prus families over the succession of Baron Josef Ferdinand Prus goes back nearly a century. Baron Prus died in 1827, apparently without leaving a direct descendant. However, on several occasions he was said to have designated a young orphan by the name of Ferdinand Gregor as his sole heir. With Ferdinand Gregor unable to claim succession for lack of a written testament, the inheritance reverted back to the cousin of the dead Baron, thus remaining in the possession of the Prus family. The litigant parties in this third-generation court case are Baron Jaroslav Prus and Albert Gregor, the debt-ridden grandson of Ferdinand. Against the advice of Dr. Kolenaty, his lawyer, Albert Gregor brings the deadlocked proceedings to appeal to oblige the court to deliver a definitive judgement. As he is still unable to produce a will, it is highly improbable that Gregor can win his case.
In the law offices of Dr. Kolenaty, Albert Gregor impatiently waits for news of the outcome of the hearing. His lawyer has not yet returned from the court and Kolenaty’s assistant Vitek is unable to provide him with any information. Krista, Vitek’s daughter, who dreams of becoming a great star, has just heard the famous diva Marty sing. Still brimming with enthusiasm for her, Krista feels a need to abandon any hope of ever having such a career herself. Kolenaty returns to his office with news that the judgement has been deferred. Emilia Marty enters at the same time. The latter is clearly interested by the court case and seems to know certain details that could present the case in a new light. According to her, Josef Prus’s designated heir Ferdinand Gregor was the illegitimate son of Prus and Elian MacGregor, a famous singer of those times. Thanks to these new details, Albert Gregor may still have a significant chance of obtaining an inheritance worth several million. Marty mentions the existence of a will naming Ferdinand Gregor as heir, adding that the document can be found in the house of the Prus family. She also seems to know the exact contents of the will and goes so far as to indicate the exact drawer in which it is to be found. Marty’s information is met with scepticism from Kolenaty, but when Gregor threatens to enlist the services of another lawyer Kolenaty yields and declares himself ready to attend to the affair. Gregor and Marty remain alone. Suddenly feeling irresistibly attracted to Marty, Gregor bombards her with impassioned declarations. He offers her a portion of his inheritance and throws himself at her feet but Marty spurns his advances. Instead, she questions him about an old document written in Greek, but Gregor cannot help her. Kolenaty returns from the Prus household accompanied by Prus himself with news that the will has indeed been discovered in the very place predicted by Marty. The latter tries to find out if any other documents were found at the Prus home.
After the performance. Dazzled by Marty’s artistic genius, her admirers lavish praise on her and question her endlessly about her private life. Krista believes she has discovered the secret to Marty’s success: an absolute devotion to art and the refusal of any love affairs. As a result, Kirsta breaks off her relationship with her friend Janek, the son of Jaroslav Prus. Marty, however, is bored by the swarm of admirers and the overabundance of compliments and flowers. She sees Gregor waiting for her with gifts and makes fun of him, and then Krista and Janek, in front of the assembled crowd. The aging and somewhat feeblemin- ded Count Hauck-Schenkdorf puts an end to the ugly scene by taking Emilia Marty for Eugenia Montez, the Spanish Bohemian with whom he had a torrid affair a half-century earlier. Under the eyes of the assembled crowd, Marty brazenly rebuffs the hallucinations and advances of the old man and then dismisses everyone except Prus. When they are alone, she questions Prus once more about the documents accompanying the will. He lets it be known that several love letters signed with the initials “E.M” together with a document written in Greek were also discovered. Marty offers to buy all the documents from Prus but he rejects her proposal. Janek, Prus’s son, who like all men is fascinated by Marty, allows himself to be persuaded by her to deceive his father and steal the coveted documents. The older Prus, however, has been eavesdropping on their conversation. He enters, knocks his deceitful son to the floor and declares his readiness to give Marty the documents she desires on the one condition that she agrees to spend the night with him.
After spending the night together, Prus gives the document to Emilia Marty even though he feels cheated. Emilia gave herself to him without passion and with an air of indifference. Just then, one of Prus’s servants arrives bearing news of another tragedy: ridiculed by his father and distressed by his unrequited love for Marty, Janek, Prus’s son, has shot himself in the head. Marty remains totally unmoved by news of the suicide. The demented old man reappears and tries to convince his Bohemian Eugenia Montez alias Emilia to run away to the South. However, Kolenaty, Prus, Gregor, Vitek and Krista prevent Marty from leaving and accuse her of falsifying the documents – Elian MacGregor’s papers, the letters from a certain Elina Makropoulos, as well as Marty’s signature are all written in the same handwriting. Marty denies the accusations of fraud but under the pressure of intense cross-examination she finally reveals her true identity: Born Elina Makropoulos in Crete at the end of the 16th century, her father Hieronymus Makropoulos was an alchemist and personal physician to Emperor Rodolph II at the Court in Prague. On the orders of the Emperor who feared his imminent death, Hieronymus Makropoulos developed an elixir that could delay the aging process by 300 years. Fearful of being poisoned or incapacitated by the potential side-effects of the concoction, the Emperor first tested the miracle cure on Elina, Makropoulos’s 16-year-old daughter. Elina passed out and remained unconscious for several weeks. The Emperor threw his personal physician into the dungeon and resigned himself to a natural death like all other mortals. Soon thereafter, Elina regained consciousness and fled, taking the formula for the life- extending elixir with her. Meanwhile, the concoction had its desired effect. Elina lived through three centuries without aging and became an exceptional singer. So as not to be noticed, every few decades, she changed her name, identity, and place of residence although always keeping the same initials. At the beginning of the 19th century, whilst using the identity of the Scottish singer Elian MacGregor, she met Baron Josef Prus and had a child by him. The child, Ferdinand Gregor, was Albert Gregor’s grandfather. She entrusted her father’s formula to baron Prus, the only man she believed she truly loved. Baron Prus, however, never used it. Elina Makropoulos is now 337 years old. The elixir’s effect has started to wane but her fear of death remains as great. To prolong her life for another three centuries, Elina has set about rediscovering the elixir’s secret. After these explanations, Emilia alias Elina becomes delirious and experiences a feeling of imminent death. When she comes to her senses again she declares that she no longer fears death. Disillusioned by the emotional failures that have punctuated her long existence, alone, emotionally drained and no longer believing in love, she decides against taking the elixir again. Instead, she passes the secret on to Krista who immediately sets fire to the formula at the urging of the men. Elina Makropoulos dies whilst performing her last great scene.