Opera that knows no shame

  • Opera & Dance
Opera that knows no shame


Mon, 16/01/2017 - 12:26


Le Grand Macabre – ‘a shocking kind of excretory apocalypse’
Le Grand Macabre – ‘a shocking kind of excretory apocalypse’
12 January, 2017

HONK! Honk!! Honk!!! It’s the end of the world – make way for György Ligeti’s absurdist opera Le Grand Macabre.

The piece being given a semi-staged performance at the Barbican on Saturday by nearly a dozen soloists, the London Symphony Orchestra and its LSO Chorus, all conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

In charge is Peter Sellars, the quirky American director noted for his innovative treatments of classical and contemporary operas.

“Le Grand Macabre is a shocking kind of excretory apocalypse,” he says. “It’s not just irreverent. It knows no shame, it’s in very bad taste, it’s filled with bad jokes, the music is outrageous.”

The opening prelude launches the opera on its absurdist journey through Breughelland imagined by Dutch painter Pieter Breughel.

At the opera’s very start, 12 car-horns honking at different pitches suggest there’s something of a traffic jam fouling everyone up.

After that, numerous bizarre characters are met along the journey. There’s a perennially pissed anti-hero Piet the Pot; a sado-masochistic astronomer; a pair of sex-obsessed lovers; and a couple of preening, pernicious politicians.

Nekrotzar, the despotic Grand Macabre himself, has come to annihilate the people of Breughel­land. But he gets drunk with Pieter the Pot instead and falls off a rocking horse.

Written in 1974-77 after Ligeti had left Hungary, there’s a strong satirical dig at the communist dictatorship in his home country. There’s also a strong dig at the dictatorhip a few “a-tonal” composers, notably Pierre Boulez, in the Western musical world.

Much of Ligeti’s eclectic music is driven by pastiche and quotation, plundering past styles through allusions to Monteverdi, Rossini and Verdi.

With a cacophony of sounds generated by a cuckoo whistle, alarm clock, tray of crockery and the like along with an array of musical instruments, it’s not music for everyone’s taste. Even so, it’s a unique opera, over-flowing with fun.

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