Ligeti – Le Grand Macabre
Chris Merritt; Ines Moraleda; Ana Puche; Werner Van Mechelen; Barbara Hannigan; Frode Olsen; Symphony Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Licau; Michael Boder
ArtHaus Musik 101 043
Ligeti owes some of the popularity of his music to futuristic images: the hypnotic passages in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey were incredible background to Ligeti’s music. It is then little wonder that a combination of his difficult, relentless and entrancing music, with fascinating and at times shocking staging by La Fura dels Baus, results in such an explosive combination. The La Fura ensemble is Europe’s answer to the theatrical wizardry of Robert Lepage’s ExMachina. After a visually stunning production of Weill’s Mahagonny on the same label, Le Grand Macabre sets the bar even higher. The stage, dominated by a female shape, vaguely reminiscent of Picasso’s large-boned nudes, is transformed by tricks of light and projections into a phantasmagoria of nightmarish images, truly a “Grand Macabre.”
The tale of a false prophet of an impending apocalypse was written by Ligeti between 1974 and 1977, but he completely reworked it in 1996. Opera as a genre forces Ligeti to accommodate the most difficult of instruments, the human voice. Hence the presence of both melody and tonality in this intense work. The striking visuals will transfix even the most reluctant modern opera followers, but this is not to say that the singing is not amazing. Werner Van Mechelen inhabits the role of Nekrotzar, the prophet of doom, with ease and class, while Barbara Hannigan as Gepopo and Brian Asawa as Prince Go-Go shine in their respective roles.
This is certainly not a production that leaves the listener toe-tapping or humming a familiar aria. Instead, one will be forced to think, reflect and then put the DVD back on. Such is the power of Ligeti’s music and futuristic imagery.