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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 and available here on video shortly before opening night

Doom and gloom in Breughel land: the 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 the imaginary principality. While two lovers want to end their lives in ecstacy, 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.

Ligeti’s 1934 endgame opera, based on Belgium born Michel de Ghelderode’s La Balade du Grand Macabre, was presented to the composer as a tragi-comedy mystery play for an opera comissioned by the Royal Opera in Stockholm, it's noisy, dreamlike and very strange indeed.

Born in Romania but living in exile in Hungary since 1956, the composer called his work, tongue in cheek, an »Anti-Anti-Opera« – a commentary on the dogma of musical avant garden in those days, but actually a return to opera in the traditional sense, albeit »dangerous, exaggerated, completely nuts and smutty«. Inspired by pop art, layers of all kinds of borrowed music, distorted quotes and crudely comical texts combine to produce an over the top mixture of styles: including sounds made by everyday things, breakneck cascades of coloratura, Requiem ear-bashing and floating celestial sounds. The music's the impetus 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.