With this work avant-guarde composer György Ligeti presents "opera." (He put quotes around the word himself.) Ornery to the core, Le Grand Macabre uses musical instruments to simulate non-musical effects. Before its scenes there are two car horn Préludes and a doorbell Prélude. These frisky and brief introductions are amusing in the same way as Marcel Duchamps' famous found urinal sculpture. In fact, the entire plot is retro-Dada: Piet the Pot, a forever tipsy, professional wine-taster, is abducted by Nekrotzar, the Great Macabre, a personification of death. We meet court astrologers who engage in S & M and a confused Prince Go-Go, who reigns in Breughelland, a place where the two political parties have no differences at all. (Sound familiar?) This anti-music is cacophonous and occasionally clever, such as a concluding Passacaglia done in mock classical style. Squawking sprechtstimme inflates the non-musical segments with volume lacking substance. Inevitably, the work's constant anarchic energy wears thin. There is just too much grunting, squealing, and fall-flat satire. Thirty five years ago I anticipated hearing Le Grand Macabre for the first and only time and wrote: "Always in the melting hour/There are eons of ten minutes to endure."
Copyright © 2001, Peter Bates