György Ligeti (1923-2006)

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest

Not many operas begin with a car-horn consort, but Ligeti’s wacky, weird and wonderful Le Grand Macabre does, a prelude to a surreal score that keeps the ear guessing and sustained, so that whatever is happening story-wise might be considered secondary to the activity and diversity present in the vocal and orchestral writing, although moods and situations are vividly suggested. This Sunday-afternoon concert performance kept me listening, and sometimes watching, the music strong and unpredictable enough to be sufficient on its own terms, the George Enescu Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, so soon after Billy Budd, entering enthusiastically and precisely into Ligeti’s inimitable and challenging demands conducted by the unflappable and baton-less Arnaud Arbet. The solo singers proved to be a stellar troupe, abundant in technique, abetted (if not overdone) by animated gestures and facial expressions. The whole proved entertaining in the best sense, and disturbing, relayed in excellent sound.

Ligeti Le Grand Macabre (new French version translated by Michel Vittoz and Arnaud Arbet)

PETER HOARE Piet du Bock (tenor)
ROBIN ADAMS Nekrotzar (bass-baritone)
SOPHIE PONDJICLIS Mescalina (mezzo-soprano)
JUDITH THIELSEN Amando (mezzo-soprano)
MARION TASSOU Amanda (soprano)
VINCENT LE TEXIER Astradamors (bass)
SARAH ARISTIDOU Chef de la Gepopo / Venus (soprano)
ANDREW WATTS Prince Go-Go (countertenor)
PAUL CURIEVICI Le Ministre Blanc (tenor)
CHARLES RICE Le Ministre Noir (baritone)

IOSIF ION PRUNNER conductor of the choir

“The story is straightforward enough: Nekrotzar, a Death-like figure, travels around the world of Breughelland warning its citizens of impending doom – a giant comet will destroy Earth at midnight. He gathers various companions as he travels the land; Piet the Pot, a drunk, and Astradamors, the Astronomer Royal.”