Macabre, Absurd: La Fura dels Baus & Ligeti

SpainSpain György Ligeti, Le Grand Macabre: Soloists, Orchestra and Chorus Gran teatre del Liceu, Michael Boder (conductor), Barcelona’s Liceu, 22.11.2011 (JMI)

Coproduction Barcelona’s Liceu, Brussel’s La Monnaie, Roma’s Teatro dell’Opera and English National Opera

Direction: Alex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus) with the collaboration of Valentina Carrasco
Sets: Alfons Flores
Costumes: Lluc Castells
Lighting: Peter Van Praet
Video Projections: Franc Aleu

Nekrotzar: Werner Van Mechelen
Piet the Pot: Chris Merritt
Astradamors: Frode Olsen
Mescalina: Ning Liang
Prince Go-Go: Brian Asawa
Venus / Chief of the Gepopo: Barbara Hannigan
White Minister: Francisco Vas
Black Minister: Simon Butteriss
Amanda: Ana Puche
Amando: Inés Moraleda

Picture courtesy Gran Teatre del Liceu, © A. Bofill

La Fura dels Baus’ production of Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre has been travelling around the world for a while now: Seen and Heard has reviewed the production in London and at Buenos Aires’ Teatro Colón. Now it has come ‘home’ to La Fura dels Baus’ native Barcelona.

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G.Ligeti, Le Grand Macabre,
E-P.Salonen / Philharmonia O.
London Sinfonietta Voices et al.

Le Grand Macabre is wholly original opera, flirting with ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. I think of it as a superbly entertaining opera buffa, very funny—even with figurative death at its center, clad in surreal garb, and with a great sense of humor in text and music. It closes with a grand morality scene, much like an 18th century work would have. I loved it; alas, the audience in the well-filled Liceau seemed of a different opinion, judging by their lukewarm response.

La Fura dels Baus’ production couldn’t be more faithful to libretto and it is spectacular in every sense: not just the huge human statue early on (a standard of the La Fura stage-vocabulary), but also because of the excellent stage direction of all the soloists. It is difficult to imagine that Ligeti’s opera would be quite as successful if it were not for the exceptional work of La Fura.

In music that cannot be easy to conduct, Michael Boder gave one of his best performances at the Liceu so far, and both the orchestra and chorus did very well. The cast offered a group of singing-actors—excellent on stage without exception, even if their vocal quality occasionally left something to be desired.

Nekrotzar (Werner Van Mechelen), Ning Liang’s Mescalina, and Frode Olsen (who sang Astradamors) all seemed a little short of power for their respective characters. Chris Merritt—although in tired voice—gave life to the tramp Piet the Pot. Countertenor Brian Asawa’s Prince Go-Go was easy on the ears and Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan (doubling as Venus and Gepopo, head of the secret police) offered a truly hilarious interpretation in the Gepopo-part which requires just that sort of a light coloratura soprano. Excellent were also the two ministers, performed by Francisco Vas and Simon Butteriss. Last, but certainly not least: the young couple in love was adequately covered by Ana Puche (Amanda) a very pleasant soprano, and Ines Moraleda (Amando).

José Mª Irurzun