A UK production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre is reviewed.
It takes all of about five seconds before you realise that Hungarian composer György Ligeti‘s Le Grand Macabre is an opera of the unexpected. The piece starts with a prelude – a conventional enough idea, except that instead of being played by the orchestra, it’s scored for 12 car horns, performed by the hands and feet of three percussionists. It’s a surreal coup de musique that starts Le Grand Macabre on its absurdist journey, in which you meet a perennially pissed antihero called Piet the Pot, a sado- masochistic astronomer, a pair of sex- obsessed lovers, a layabout prince, and a couple of preening, pernicious politicians. All of them are subject to the whims of Nekrotzar, the despotic Grand Macabre himself, who has come to visit annihilation on the people of Breughelland, “the entirely run-down but nevertheless carefree and thriving principality” in which the opera is set. Nekrotzar doesn’t succeed, however, as Piet gets him drunk, and instead of commanding the minions of hell to raze Breughelland to the ground, he misses his own apocalypse and falls off a rocking horse.