Le Grand Macabre, Gran Teatre de Liceu, Barcelona 2011. Production: Fura del Baus (Alex Ollé,Valentina Carrasco). Conductor: Michael Boder. Cast: Chris Merrit (Pier the Pot), Inés Moraleda (Amando), Ana Puche (Amanda), Werner Van Mechelen (Nekrotzar), Frode Olsen (Astradamors), Barbara Hannigan (Venus/Gepopo).
Written between 1974-77, Ligeti wanted to create a so-called anti-anti-opera, as a reaction to the anti-operatic movement represented by Mauricio Kagel´s anti-opera Staatstheater. Loosely based on Michel De Ghelderode´s 1934 play, the libretto was written in collaboration with Michael Meschke, director of the Stockholm puppet theatre. As Ligeti found the anti-opera genre was exhausted with Kagel´s work, he conceived his so called anti-anti-opera to be well within the traditions of the operatic genre but encompassing the criticism rooted in anti-opera. The world premiere took place in Stockholm in 1978, and the action goes more or less like this:
Nekrotzar (Death) arrives in a world threatened by immediate extinction, meets op with 1) a drunkard and 2) an astrologer bullied by his wife as well as some freaky politicians, the weird prince Go-Go, the secret police Gepopo and finally tries to induce the end of the world by a comet. In the aftermath, he discovers that most people have, in fact, survived and the final message of the opera is optimistic as we are told “not to fear death as no-one knows when it will happen to us".
This ambiguity (comedy vs. tragedy) was important to Ligeti, who disapproved of Peter Stein´s dark post-Tchernobyl staging of the revised version of the work seen in Salzburg in 1997.
The inspiration for the staging is Claudia Schneider, an (opera) singer-songwriter. A huge replica of her body fills up the stage and the singers move on the surface as well as inside her body where various cross-sections are made to expose intestines and inner organs. Exit and entrance via various orifices – eyes, vagina, nipples etc.
In fact we follow two parallel courses of action starting with a video of the real-life Claudia Schneider eating a hamburger, choking and believing she is going to die. Finally, we see that she is indeed not, and the entire opera takes place in those few seconds where she thinks she is going to die.
The costumes were designed to each represent a body part. Though not always clear, such as Pier the Pot designed to represent fatty tissue (!), Venus representing hair was more easy to get.
All singers were excellent in this ensemble opera. If I were to mention only one it would be Barbara Hannigan whose stratospheric high notes as Venus/Gepopo still ring in my head.
Michael Boder seemed sufficiently in command of a score containing car horns, door bells and alarm clocks.
This DVD is a must for all those interested in modern (late 20th Century) opera.
The bottom line (scale of 1-5, 3=average):
The entire cast: 4-5
Fura del Baus´ staging: 5
Michael Boder: 4Overall impression: 5