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FULL LE GRAND MACABRE (Ligeti) Paris 2023 François-Xavier Roth, Robin Adams, Andrew Watts, Lucile Richardot

Video Recording from: ARTE     FULL VIDEO     Qries

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  • Format: Streaming
  • Quality Video: 4 Audio:4
  • Subtitles: nosubs  
  • Video Recording from: ARTE     FULL VIDEO

Le Grand Macabre (completed 1977, revised 1996) is the third and only major stage-work by Hungarian composer György Ligeti, following his Absurdist sung “mimodramas” Aventures (compl. 1962) and Nouvelles aventures (1965).

The “anti-anti-opera” has two acts and lasts about 100 minutes. Its libretto, based on Michel de Ghelderode’s 1934 play La balade du Grand Macabre, was written by Ligeti himself in collaboration with Michael Meschke, director of the Stockholm Puppet Theatre. The language was German, the title Der grosse Makaber. But for the first production, in 1978, it was translated into Swedish by Meschke under the French title by which it has been known ever since, and under which it was published.[2] Besides these two languages, Le Grand Macabre has been performed in English, French, Italian, Hungarian and Danish, with only a few notes needing to be changed in order to adjust.

Premiere, productions and revision
Le Grand Macabre was premiered in Stockholm on 12 April 1978 At least 30 productions have followed. For one in Paris in February 1997 (under the auspices of that summer’s Salzburg Festival), Ligeti the previous year prepared a revision, making cuts to Scenes 2 and 4, setting some of the originally spoken passages to music and removing others altogether. (As it turned out, the composer was annoyed by the Paris staging, by Peter Sellars,[4] and expressed his displeasure publicly. Sellars, he said, had gone against his desire for ambiguity by explicitly depicting an Apocalypse set in the framework of the Chernobyl Disaster.) This 1996 revised score was published and has become standard. Conductors who have championed Le Grand Macabre include Elgar Howarth, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Boder, Alan Gilbert, Sir Simon Rattle, Thomas Guggeis, who led a new staging by Vasily Barkhatov in November 2023 at Oper Frankfurt, and Pablo Heras-Casado, who conducted a different new production a week later at the Vienna State Opera.

Le Grand Macabre falls at a point when Ligeti’s style was undergoing a significant change—apparently effecting a complete break with his approach in the 1960s. From here onward, Ligeti adopts a more eclectic manner, re-examining tonality and modality (in his own words, “non-atonal” music). In the opera, however, he does not forge a new musical language. The music instead is driven by quotation and pastiche, plundering past styles through allusions to Claudio Monteverdi, Gioachino Rossini, and Giuseppe Verdi.


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