A Grand Macabre “Premiere” in a Troubled Colón

A Grand Macabre “premiere” in a troubled Colón: Ligeti, Le Grand Macabre: Soloists, Chorus and Pianos and percussion. Conductor: Baldur Brönnimann, Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. 3.04.2011. (JSJ)

Direction: Alex Ollé, Valentina Carrasco (La Fura dels Baus)
Sets: Alfons Flores
Lighting: Peter van Praet
Costumes: Lluc Castells
Video design: Franc Aleu
Chorus: Peter Burian


Piet the Pot: Chris Merritt
Nekrotzar: Roderick Earle
Astradamors: Wilbur Pauley
Prince Go-Go: Brian Asawa
Mescalina: Ning Liang
The White Minister: Gustavo De Gennaro
The Black Minister: Javier Galán
Gepopo / Venus: Susanna Andersson
Amanda: Ilse Eerens / Cecilia Layseca
Amando: Frances Bourne
Ruffiack: Sebastiano De Filippi
Schobiack: Alejandro Meerapfel
Schabernack: Christian Peregrino

Against a background of continuing labour problems, the Teatro Colón has opened its 2011 season with a “reduced” version of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre – or the “world premiere of the Buenos Aires version,” as cast member Wilbur Pauley suggested in a letter to a local newspaper.

But let’s step back, with the origins to be found in the long running labour issues, simmering since the Colón’s reopening last May and which brought the 2010 season to an untimely closure, remaining unresolved over the summer months. By the end of February there was sufficient hope to release the 2011 season, although not to allow subscription sales to start – and 2010 subscribers have now been guaranteed priority for 2012 – and nor to ensure that the season would open as planned, given the involvement of several orchestra members in the labour disputes.

The outcome of this was the decision that rather than cancel Le Grand Macabre altogether, to put it on with a piano accompaniment – in the event there was also celesta, organ, synthesiser and percussion, in addition to two pianos – and to present it in the form of an “open rehearsal” with free public entry. There is no reference as to who produced this “reduced” version, but for a score that depends on the many colours of larger and more diverse forces it was rather more effective than initially anticipated and I suspect made the experience more palatable than it might have been with these larger forces. Certainly there was a good balance between music and voice and conductor Baldur Brönnimann, who knows the work well, ensured a polished presentation.

So too the production from the Catalan group La Fura dels Baus, which has been around for a couple of years now and is based around a giant, prone hermaphrodite-like figure – at times male, at others female and also a skeleton – in and around whose orifices and body parts the drama takes place. Grotesque but visually compelling, the drama from La Fura’s Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco (an Argentine) is slick and tight and unfolds with the utmost precision.

Likewise the main principals, who are noted exponents of their roles, gave of their best – Chris Merritt as the drunkard Piet the Pot, Roderick Earle as the pivotal but non-descript Nekrotzar, and Brian Asawa as Prince Go-Go. Wilbur Pauley was Astradamors and Ning Liang Mescalina, and Susanna Andersson doubled as the chief of police and Venus. Among the local cast members Gustavo De Gennaro as the White Minister was notable alongside the equally notable Javier Galán as the Black Minister.

Certainly the response was enthusiastic from the mixed public, many of whom were attracted by the opportunity to see a Colón production for free. But where it leaves the rest of the season is an open question. There have been rumblings than an agreement is close to being reached but as Argentines know all too well, until it happens there can be no guarantee.


Roderick Earle (Nekrotzar) and Chris Merritt (Piet the Pot)
in front of “the carnal body”
Photo Courtesy of Ensayo Abierto

Jonathan Spencer Jones