|Ligeti - Le grand Macabre - Simon Rattle, London Symphony Orchestra and ensemble at the Barbican Hall|
John Phillips/Getty Images
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 15 2017
Musically magical, but a heavy-handed staging dampens the humorous anarchy of Ligeti's surreal opera
|Pavlo Hunka, Peter Hoare - John Phillips/Getty Images|
|Peter Tantsits, Joshu Bloom, Anthony Roth Costanzo|
John Phillips/Getty Images
What remains, of course, is the music with the dazzling array of textures created by Ligeti using his orchestra (reduced strings, extended percussion department), including the famous preludes on car horns and on bells, plus of course clocks and much else besides. There is a logic behind it, the work is not just a jeux d'esprit, but Ligeti uses the virtues of surrealist anarchy to keep us guessing, and the work never preaches.
Having the piece performed at the Barbican rightly put Simon Rattle and the LSO centre stage, and we could appreciate in full the dazzle and subtlety of Ligeti's score, and Rattle drew some wondrous playing for the orchestra. The more mad-cap moments were, perhaps, a bit too serious and heavy handed, Rattle seemed to be saying that this was a serious piece of music. But the ending with its passacaglia, really brought out the sheer beauty of Ligeti's music.
|Body of Gepopo (Audrey Luna) being taken off in a body bag |
by stage crew - John Phillips/Getty Images
The result had theatrical dazzle, and used the full Barbican Hall to great effect. The London Symphony Chorus invaded the auditorium to great effect (there was no room for them on the stage), which necessitated Simon Halsey as a white-coated subsidiary conductor, and Audrey Luna's Venus appeared from high in the auditorium. Individual groups of instrumentalists were similarly highlighted.
|Astradamors (Frode Olsen) & Nekrotzar (Peter Hoare), |
dragging Mescalina (Heidi Melton) - John Phillips/Getty Images
Peter Hoare was simply brilliant as Piet the Pot, vocally incisive with an awareness of the quality of the words. You felt that he could have been far funnier if he had been allowed. Hunka was an impressive but not ideal Nekrotzar, his voice perhaps a little to light to establish the vocal authority which the role needs, though he was dramatically very vivid. Ronnita Miller and Elizabeth Watts were superb lovers (Miller singing the role as a woman and not en travestie), and went a long way to putting the sex back into their relationship by musical means, giving us some really seductive singing. They made this difficult music sound luxuriously easy. Heidi Melton and Frode Olsen did their best, but their scene was simply lacking in the essential humour and the depiction of their relationship came over as a bit puritanically disapproving, rather than giving us the belly laugh we wanted.
|Audrey Luna, Simon Rattle, LSO - John Phillips/Getty Images|
The non-event/event of the apocalypse was somehow dramatically underwhelming, and it was here that Rattle and his orchestra really took over to fill in the gaps, and we were grateful for being able to have such a luxurious hand on this music. Sellars might have made the ending completely unambiguous but there was something eerily gripping about it, helped by some striking performances with Anthony Roth Costanzo's Prince Go-Go being particularly touching.
I have to confess to still being in two minds about Ligeti's opera. This is the third time I have seen it, having seen it staged at ENO in 1982 and in 2009, and still something about the score eludes me. Perhaps, partly because directors have a tendency to take the work a little too seriously and that the work's scabrous and savage Monty-Python-esque irony is missed.
In the concert hall, lacking the full facilities of a complete staging Peter Sellars' staging came over as simply heavy handed whereas in the theatre he might have had more space for larger effects and contrasting theatrical subtlety. You cannot help thinking that the sort of semi-staging where the singers are off the book and give us basic entrances and exits would have worked a lot better, allowing room for greater theatrical imagination. What we could admire was the superb control which Rattle and the LSO brought to the score, and a cast who displayed hardly a weak link and made dazzling work of Ligeti's tricky vocal writing.
GYÖRGY LIGETI LE GRAND MACABRE
Opera in four scenes to a libretto by György Ligeti and Michael Meschke freely adapted from Michel de Ghelderode’s play La balade du grand macabre
Original version first performance 12 April 1978, Royal Opera Stockholm; new version first performance 28 July 1997, Großes Festspielhaus Salzburg
English translation by Geoffrey Skelton.
Sir Simon Rattle conductor
Peter Sellars director
Peter Hoare - Piet the Pot (tenor)
Ronnita Miller - Amando (mezzo-soprano)
Elizabeth Watts - Amanda (soprano)
Pavlo Hunka - Nekrotzar (bass-baritone)
Frode Olsen - Astradamors (bass)
Heidi Melton - Mescalina (soprano)
Audrey Luna - Venus, Gepopo (soprano)
Anthony Roth Costanzo - Prince Go-Go (counter-tenor)
Peter Tantsits - White Minister (tenor)
Joshua Bloom - Black Minister (bass)
Christian Valle - Ruffiack (bass)
Fabian Langguth - Schobiak (baritone)
Benson Wilson - Schabernack (bass)
London Symphony Orchestra
London Symphony Chorus
Simon Halsey - chorus director
Duncan Ward - assistant conductor
Hans-Georg Lenhart - assistant director
Ben Zamora - lighting designer
Michelle Bradbury - costume designer
Nick Hillel - video designer
Betsy Ayer - stage manager
Richard Peirson, Zeynep Özsuca - répétiteurs
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