Hungarian Ligeti's "Macabre" opera hits at fascism

Mon Sep 14, 2009 7:20am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - It starts with a prelude of car horns and ends with the world being destroyed by a comet -- or possibly not.

On top of that, a new staging of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti's absurdist opera "Le Grand Macabre," opening on Thursday (Sept 17) at the English National Opera (, takes place inside the torso of a 17-m tall by 8-m wide plastic woman nicknamed "Claudia."

"We came up with the body as a universe to serve for the stage," said Alex Olle, one of the directors from the Catalan street theater company La Fura dels Baus, famous for staging the opening ceremony at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and which has mounted the new production of "Le Grand Macabre" for the ENO and other houses.

"We couldn't decide at first if it should be male or female but we chose a woman because there was more space," Olle added, deadpan.

Ligeti's 1978 opera, heavily revised in 1997, is a modern amorality tale replete with debauchery, sex, sadomasochism, spies, treachery, cupidity, drinking, more drinking, a bit of cross-dressing and plenty of humor, not to mention one of the great modern opera scores of the past half century.

But staging has always been a problem for this troubled 20th-century masterpiece whose pricklish creator, probably best known to a wider public for the soaring crescendo director Stanley Kubrick used in his science fiction film "2001: A Space Odyssey," publicly condemned the first production of the revised version in 1997.

We'll never know what Ligeti, who died in 2006, would have made of the staging the Catalans have devised for the ENO and other European opera companies, but one thing is certain: opera and theater lovers alike will elbow their way to the ticket booth for the six-night run of what is certain to be one of the most talked-about productions on the London stage this year.

"It's really hilarious, it's sometimes very absurd humor, sometimes obscene, but it has everything in it," said Austrian tenor Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke, who sings the role of Piet the Pot, a drunkard whose profession is "winetaster" and who serves as the opera's "everyman."   Continued...