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Work of the Week – György Ligeti: Le Grand Macabre

The anti-anti-opera: Le Grand Macabre by György Ligeti will celebrate its premiere at the Frankfurt Opera on November 5, 2023. Vasily Barkhatov will direct the production at the "Opera House of the Year", which has just been named in the music critics' survey of Opernwelt magazine. The new general music director Thomas Guggeis will be conducting in the pit, while the "Opera Choir of the Year" will perform on stage, along with many solos. This is the first of four major productions of the work in the current season, which celebrates the 100th birthday of Ligeti, who was born in 1923. At Vienna, the State Opera is opening the new production by director Jan Lauwers on November 11, with Pablo Heras-Casado conducting.

Ligeti himself described Le Grand Macabre, which premiered in Stockholm in 1978, as an "anti-anti-opera." He was referring to the play with conventions, which he both serves and turns on its head. On the one hand, he bows to the demands of an opera. The text should be clearly understandable, while the action must be confined in a scenic corset. On the other hand, Ligeti designed a concept that broke with operatic tradition:

I had in mind a strongly schematizing, comic-like stage action, and the music should also be immediate, comic-like, exaggerated, colorful and crazy. The novelty of this musical theater was not to manifest itself in externals of the performance, but in the interior of the music, through the music. - György Ligeti

Le Grand Macabre: György Ligeti's vision of total anarchy and the end of the world

Ligeti wastes no time in realizing this vision: even the prelude, with its cast of twelve car horns, gives the audience a sense of the kind of musical excesses that will be celebrated in Le Grand Macabre. The music accompanies and compels the action on stage, the intoxication of the senses celebrated in the fantasy world of Breughelland. The anarchy in the pit, however, is not a means to an end. Ligeti never loses sight of the opera's ostensible plot, the end of the world with announcement, and gives the work its very own underlying mood:

It is the calculated artistry that keeps the Great Macabre, with all these colorfully jumbled ingredients, in check as a whole. Through the conscious integration and correction of the details in the coordination of the overall plan, transparency is created, and glimpses of the remarkable, macabre seriousness of the situation, which lies in all the cheerfully spread ambiguity of this opera, open up. What then remains, besides the joy, is a deeply queasy feeling. - Ulrich Dibelius

Le Grand Macabre will run for seven performances at the Frankfurt Opera through December 2. The premiere of another new production follows on November 11 at the Vienna State Opera. On December 2, a concert performance with François-Xavier Roth and the Orchestre National de France will take place at the Maison de la Radio et de la Musique in Paris. Two more productions will follow in June 2024: on June 14 at the Prague State Opera and on June 28 at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich.


György Ligeti: Composer Profile 

Le Grand Macabre: Work Details and Online Score 

Website Oper Frankfurt

Website Vienna State Opera

photo: Vienna State Opera


Head of Promotion | Concert Opera Media Division

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