Major Operas | Le Grand Macabre by György Ligeti | Modern Era

Composed: 1972–76
Premiered: 1978, Stockholm
Libretto by the composer and Michael Meschke after Michel de Ghelderode’s play La ballade du Grand Macabre

Act I

Piet the Pot, drunk as ever, watches Amando and Amanda making love. Nekrotzar, the Grand Macabre, rises from his tomb and prophesies doom for Breughelland at midnight. He rides off on Piet to spread the news, while the lovers take over his empty grave. Astradamors, the Royal Astronomer, has seen a strange red glow in the sky. Dressed in women’s underwear, he is being abused by his dominatrix wife Mescalina. Piet arrives with Nekrotzar. Mescalina gets drunk and in a dream demands that Venus sends her a well-endowed lover. Nekrotzar obligingly rapes and kills her. Astradamors is happy to be master of his house again.

Act II

The Black Minister and the White Minister are teaching Prince Go-Go the alphabet. They bully him and he has a disastrous riding lesson. He is always feeling hungry. The coloratura Chief of Secret Police enters, panic-stricken and unable to tell them intelligibly that a comet is about to fall on the city. Sirens sound the alarm. Nekrotzar terrifies the people by prophesying doom. They plead with him to spare them. Piet and Astradamors decide to make him drunk. By midnight he is paralytic. There is a loud explosion. The comet has presumably landed. Nektrotzar is as surprised as anyone, but he claims responsibility for averting disaster and collapses.

Piet and Astradamors believe that everyone is dead. Nekrotzar slowly realizes that he has failed. Mescalina reappears and accuses him. He shrivels away when faced with her, the ministers, Piet and Astradamors. Amando and Amanda surface from the grave, unaware how close they came to the end of the world. Since no one knows when he or she is to die, we are encouraged to live merrily until then.

Personalities | György Ligeti | Modern Era | Opera


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