Le Grand Macabre, a comedy about the end of the world, an elaborate game of musical time-travel, an ambiguous dance on the brink of an abyss, looks more and more like the key opera of the end of the twentieth century, and it is good to have a new recording of it to greet the millennium appropriately. Direct comparison between the newcomer and Elgar Howarth's splendid 1987 Wergo performance is difficult, because Ligeti extensively revised the score in 1996, and it is that 'final version', as he calls it, that is recorded here. He has made a number of cuts, a great deal of what was originally spoken dialogue is now sung and there have been many changes to the scoring, making it more practical but also thinning it out. The final passacagliaRead more has been beautifully transformed from a rather abrupt and disconcerting epilogue into a still disconcerting but also poetic dyingaway. The reduction of spoken dialogue and the lightening of the orchestral texture make life a little easier for the singers (though not for the soprano singing Gepopo, which Ligeti has described as an attempt to out-Zerbinetta Zerbinetta) and for the players. He has learned a lot, he says, about the practicalities of opera, about restraints on rehearsal time, and in the new scoring 'there are no "utopian" passages any more'.
Orchestral musicians have also learned a thing or two in the interim, it would seem. In Howarth's recording the famous preludes for tuned motorhorns sound more than a touch precarious, as though the players were unused to such outlandish objects. Salonen is able to take them a good deal faster, making it more obvious that they are burlesques of a baroque toccata. The whole performance is rather more assured than Howarth's (his was recorded at a concert, Salonen's during a series of staged performances with presumably much longer rehearsal time) and the score's beauties are more lovingly polished. It now sounds rather closer to a 'normal' opera and, perhaps inevitably, lacks a degree of Howarth's alarming impact. Interestingly enough, it is Salonen's performance, sung in English to a French audience (Howarth's was in German, his audience Austrian), that draws more laughs at the jokes. As Gepopo Sibylle Ehlert is even more spectacularly virtuoso than Howarth's Eirian Davies, and Willard White's gravity is as effective in the role of Nekrotzar as Dieter Weller's more sinister authority. Graham Clark is hugely exuberant as Piet the Pot, and Steven Cole and Richard Suart make a splendid double-act of the two Ministers, roles that were originally spoken and which now have much more character. Jard van Nes and Frode Olsen are perhaps inhibited by the English language from making Mescalina and Astradamors as grotesque as they can be, though both sing well, as does every other member of the cast. The recording, like the May 1999 performance, is a little more comfortable, rather less in-your-face, than Howarth's.
The new version is the one to have - Ligeti's revisions are all improvements, and the performance is a fine one - but the older one has a shade more of the quality that Ligeti says he has hoped for in stage productions of the opera, that of 'demoniacal farce'.
Le grand macabreby György Ligeti Performer:
Charlotte Hellekant (Mezzo Soprano),
Laura Claycomb (Soprano),
Jard Van Nes (Mezzo Soprano),
Derek Lee Ragin (Countertenor),
Graham Clark (Tenor),
Sibylle Ehlert (Soprano),
Willard White (Bass Baritone),
Steven Cole (Tenor),
Richard Suart (Baritone),
Martin Winkler (Baritone),
Marc Campbell-Griffiths (Baritone),
Michael Lessiter (Baritone),
Frode Olsen (Bass)
London Sinfonietta Voices
Period: 20th Century Written: 1974-1977; Berlin, Germany Date of Recording: 02/1998 Venue: Live Châtelet Theater, Paris, France Length: 102 Minutes 27 Secs. Language: English Notes: Ver: 1997
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Odd opera, but goodJuly 4, 2014By Weston Williams (Chicago, IL)See All My Reviews"This opera is as weird as it gets, but I don't mean that in any negative sort of way. This ridiculous and oddly-orchestrated comedy is from a live french recording which does a good job at projecting the idea of physical comedy happening onstage to an audio format. Definitely recommended."Report Abuse