Recent award to "Le Grand Macabre"

The DVD of Le Grand Macabre by Ligeti, recorded at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in 2011, has received the "La Révérence" award from the prestigious Avant-Scène Opéra magazine.  

The magazine featured a review by PIERRE RIGAUDIÈRE.

Chris Merritt (Piet the Pot), Inés Moraleda (Amando), Ana Puche (Amanda), Werner Van Mechelen (Nekrotzar), Frode Olsen (Astradamors), Ning Liang (Mescalina), Barbara Hannigan (Venus, Gepopo), Brian Asawa (White Minister), Simon Butteriss (Black Minister), Chorus and Symphony Orchestra of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Conductor Michael Boder, Stage Direction:  Alex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus) with the collaboration of Valentina Carrasco (Barcelona 2011).
Arthaus Musik 101 643 (2 DVDs).  Picture Format:  NTSC 16:9.  Sound Format:  DD 5.1 and PCM Stereo, Region code: 0 (worldwide).  Distributor:   Harmonia Mundi.

In describing Le Grand Macabre (1974-77, revised version 1996) as an “anti-anti-opera”, Ligeti, who had himself come close to the "anti-opera" utopia in his Aventures and Nouvelles Aventures, displayed a relaxed attitude towards the conventions of the genre while letting it be understood, in that mischievous way of his, that he had made ample use of them.  The surrealist comedy that the composer borrowed from the Belgian playwright Michel De Ghelderode provided him with strong dramatic potential while unleashing a music that is drawn from various sources, loaded with quotes and takeoffs, and which is much more stylistically open than his previous work.  

Nekrotzar, the impostor prophet, arrives in the principality of Breughelland.  He first runs into Piet the Pot, a thunderous drunk - who Chris Merritt succeeds in rendering credible while maintaining excellent vocal control -, then a couple obsessed with the pleasures of the flesh, a pseudo-intellectual windbag and his tyrannical wife Mescalina, rendered delightfully venomous by the excellent mezzo-soprano Ning Liang.  The childish Prince Go-Go, who is a puppet in the hands of his two ministers, rules over a corrupt government and relies on secret police that are as incompetent as they are omnipresent.  Nekrotzar makes apocalyptic predictions that have everyone terrified but after they all go on a drinking bender (that is itself almost apocalyptic), nothing happens.

To give the full flavor of the opera without it turning into a farce, the set needed to be radical and the cast had to be impeccable.  The fulfillment of these two criteria has made this production an outstanding success.  A gigantic model of a crouching human body serves as the base for the four scenes, slowly rotating 360° and provided with orifices that are used for entering and leaving the stage.  Extraordinary video projections of textures, faces or a skeleton on this body make it human; it is also used with remarkable inventiveness as an instrument for lighting.  Very original costumes (Lluc Castells), which identify each character with a part or function of the human body, give the finishing touch to an organic setting that is totally in keeping with the opera.

A flawless cast, which includes a number of native English speakers and others with an excellent command of the language, makes good use of the English version performed here, in one of the representations of the libretto that was originally written in German and subsequently translated into other languages for various productions.  Among the admirably executed performances, both vocally and histrionically, the ones that stand out the most are those of Piet, Nekrotzar, frightening at first and then ridiculous, the black and white ministers, Prince Go-Go who with the timbre of his very clear countertenor adds a valuable dimension to the overall range of voices and the stupendous Barbara Hannigan, who displays the hyper-virtuosic coloratura demanded of Gepopo even when assuming the most athletic of postures.  The magnificent orchestral interlude that follows the non-apocalypse, as if suspended, frozen, allows one to openly enjoy, along with a few others, the Catalan orchestra's fineness, conducted with much style by Michael Boder.

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