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Le Grand Macabre

György Ligeti 1923–2006

Opera in 2 acts
Libretto by Michael Meschke & György Ligeti based on Michel de Ghelderode
First performed April 12 1978, Royal Opera, Stockholm

Sung in English with German & English surtitles

Introductory talks (in German) in the Holzfoyer 30 minutes before performances begin
There's a chamber music concert on November 26 inspired by this work

Doom and gloom in Breughel land: a Grim Reaper announces that the world will end at midnight. The clock’s ticking …

The impending catastrophe has killed the happy go lucky atmosphere in this imaginary principality stone dead. While two lovers want to end their lives in orgasms, the self-appointed prophet of death Nekrotzar ropes in tipsy Piet von Fass and the astronomer Astramadors and goes to the palace, where the terrifying news has already reached the much loved prince and scheming ministers by way of the chief of the Gepopo, the secret police.

Noisy, sonambulant and down right weird, Ligeti's endgame opera dresses itself in a motley cloak beneath which mischief reigns. Belgium’s Michel de Ghelderode’s 1934 La Balade du Grand Macabre was presented to the composer as a tragic-comedy mystery play for an opera comissioned by the Royal Opera in Stockholm. As a commentary on musical avant garde in those days this Romanian born and since 1956 in exile living Hungarian called his work, tongue in cheek, an »Anti-Anti-Opera« – actually a return to opera in the traditional sense, but »dangerous, exaggerated, completely nuts and smutty«. Inspired by pop art, layers of all sorts of musical borrowings, distorted quotes and dry-comic text to produce an over the top mixture of styles: sounds of everyday things, neck breaking cascades of coloratura, Requiem earbashing appear, heavenly sounds float about.

The music's the driving force for a strange type of wild world theatre, which includes the most wonderful piss-up in operatic history. The apocalypse looks very different through an inebriated haze. In keeping with the motto »no fun without seriousness« – or the other way round – Ligeti's end of the world grotesque about sense and nonsense gives one plenty of food for thought.

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