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Le Grand Macabre

Opera in four scenes
Libretto by György Ligeti and Michael Meschke freely adapted from Michel de Ghelderode's play "La Balade du Grand Macabre"
György Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre is not only close to the grotesque features of many a painting by Breughel and Hieronymus Bosch but, in its collagelike use of pseudo-quotations in the third tableau, also shows certain parallels to pop art and to a painting by Peter Blake: On the Balcony. ‘The painting contains elements of the collage, such as those used by Picasso, Braque or Schwitters, but in Blake’s work, the different materials (in Picasso’s works a newspaper for example) have been painted too.’ Ligeti states he ‘worked quite deliberately in the spirit of pop art: like the objects in pop art, musical quotations, musical objects become elements of a large form here, losing their character as quotations.’
Edition: Performance material

Product Details


The opera takes place in the completely degenerate but recklessly flourishing dukedom of Breugelland. […] The opera’s main character is Nekrozar, the Grand Macabre, a sinister, demagogic and dubious figure with an unshakable sense of mission. He maintains that he is the figure of Death who has come to Breugelland in order to wipe out the entire population and thereby also the whole of mankind with the aid of a comet that very day at midnight. Although he enters the ducal palace with great pomp to proclaim his apocalyptic threats with supreme confidence, he becomes caught up in the maelstrom of the all too worldly goings-on of the people of Breugelland and, with the aid of the court astrologer and his drinking partner Piet vom Fass, becomes so inebriated […] that his loftily declaimed proclamation on the imminent end of the world falls totally flat. The intoxicated people of Breugelland believe themselves to have already arrived in heaven, but it gradually becomes clear that life in heaven is identical to that on earth. Everyone is still alive after all and only Nekrozar, the Grand Macabre, dies from grief that he has failed in his crusade. If he were Death himself, then Death is now dead, eternal life has begun and earth is at one with heaven: the Last Judgement has taken place. Should he however merely have been a conceited charlatan and a dark and false messiah and his mission merely empty words, life will continue as normal – one day everyone will die, but not today, not immediately.’ (György Ligeti; source: Salzburg Festival 1997)

Orchestral Cast

3 (2. u. 3. auch Picc.) · 3 (2. auch Ob. d'am., 3. auch Engl. Hr.) · 3 (2. auch Es-Klar. u. Altsax., 3. auch Bassklar.) · 3 (3. auch Kfg.) - 4 Hr. · 4 Trp. in C (1. u. 2. ad lib. auch kl. Trp. in D) · Basstrp. · 3 Pos. (Tenor, Tenor-Bass, Kontrabass) · Kb.-Tb. - P. S. (Glsp. · Xyl. · Vibr. · Marimba · 12 mechan. Autohupen · 4 Spieluhren · 6 elektr. Türklingeln · 2 Schellentr. · Mil. Tr. · 2 kl. Tr. · 3 Bong. · Cong. · Rührtr. · Paradetr. · 4 Tomt. · 2 gr. Tr. · 2 Trgl. · 3 Paar Crot. · 3 hg. Beck. · 1 kl. Beckenpaar · 2 Beckenpaare · Gong · 2 Tamt. · Röhrengl. · 2 jap. Tempelgl. [Rin] · Mar. · 2 Guiros · 2 Peitschen · Clav. · Kast. · Ratsche · 3 Woodbl. · Holztr. · 5 Tempelbl. · gr. Holzhammer · Holzlatten · Lotosfl. · Trillerpf. · Kuckuckspf. · Signalpf. · Sirenenpf. · Dampfschiffpf. · 2 Sir. · 2 Flex. · Entengequake · 2 Brummtöpfe · gr. Weckeruhr · gr. pyramidenförm. Metronom · Papierbögen, Seiden- od. Zeitungspapier · 1 Paar Sandpapierbl. · Windmasch. · Papiertüte · Tablett voll Geschirr · Kochtopf · Pistole) (4 Spieler) - 3 chrom. Mundharmonikas (werden von den Bläsern oder Schlagzeugern gespielt) · Mand. · Hfe. · Cel. (auch Cemb.) · Konzertflügel (auch elektr. Klav.) · elektr. Org. (nur Manual) (auch Regal) - Str. (3 · 0 · 2 · 6 · 4)
Bühnenmusik: Instrumentalisten aus dem Orchestergraben


Chef der Geheimen Politischen Polizei (Gepopo) · Koloratursopran - Venus · hoher Sopran - Amanda · Sopran - Amando · Mezzosopran - Fürst Go-Go · Knabensopran, Sopran oder Countertenor - Mescalina · dramatischer Mezzosopran - Piet vom Fass · hoher Buffotenor - Nekrotzar · Charakterbariton - Astradamors · Bass - Ruffiack · Bariton - Schobiack · Bariton - Schabernack · Bariton - Weißer Minister · Tenor - Schwarzer Minister · Bariton - Geheimpolizisten und Henker (Gehilfen der Gepopo), Zeremonienmeister des Fürsten Go-Go (vorzugsweise ein Zwerg), Pagen und Diener am Hofe des Fürsten Go-Go, höllisches Gefolge des Nekrotzar beim Einzug am Hofe des Fürsten Go-Go · stumme Rollen - Chöre: gemischter Chor hinter der Bühne ("Echo der Venus" [Frauenchor], "Geisterchoral", "Das Flüstern der Wände" und das Volk von Breughelland I) - gemischter Chor im Zuschauerraum (das Volk von Breughelland II)

More Information

Le Grand Macabre
Opera in four scenes
Libretto by György Ligeti and Michael Meschke freely adapted from Michel de Ghelderode's play "La Balade du Grand Macabre"
English translation by Geoffrey Skelton
German, English
Performance material
Schott Music
Year of composition:
1974 - 1977 (1996)
World Premiere:
April 12, 1978 · Stockholm (S)
Königliche Oper
Conductor: Elgar Howarth
Original staging: Michael Meschke · Costumes: Aliute Meczies · Set design: Aliute Meczies

July 28, 1997 · Salzburg (A)
Großes Festspielhaus
Salzburger Festspiele 1997
Graham Clark, Piet vom Fass; Laura Claycomb, Amanda; Charlotte Hellekant, Amando; Willard White, Nekrotzar; Jard van Nes, Mescalina; Frode Olsen, Astradamors; Sibylle Ehlert, Venus / Chef der Geheimen Politischen Polizei (Gepopo); Steven Cole, Weißer Minister; Richard Suart, Schwarzer Minister; Derek Lee Ragin, Fürst Go-Go; Martin Winkler, Ruffiack; Walter Zeh, Schobiack; Josef Stangl, Schabernack · Conductor: Esa-Pekka Salonen · The Philharmonia Orchestra · Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor · Choir director: Winfried Maczewski
Original staging: Peter Sellars · Costumes: Dunya Ramicova · Set design: George Tsypin · Choreography: Joachim Schlömer
World Premiere (Revision)

Technical Details

Product number:
LS 2771-01

Preview/Media Contents

Interviews mit Ligeti und Dokumentation über Le Grand Macabre


Set Ascending Direction
  • Le Grand Macabre
    Conductor: Kent Nagano
    July 7, 2024 | München (Germany) , Nationaltheater
  • Le Grand Macabre
    Conductor: Kent Nagano
    July 4, 2024 | München (Germany) , Nationaltheater
  • Le Grand Macabre
    Conductor: Kent Nagano
    July 1, 2024 | München (Germany) , Nationaltheater
  • Le Grand Macabre
    Conductor: Kent Nagano
    June 28, 2024 | München (Germany) , Nationaltheater — First Night
  • Le Grand Macabre
    Conductor: Jiří Rožeň
    June 27, 2024 | Praha (Czech Republic) , Národní divadlo
  • Set Ascending Direction

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