Ligeti's Le Grand Macabre with the New York Philharmonic

I went to see György Ligeti's opera, [*Le Grand Macabre*](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Grand_Macabre), last night at Avery Fisher hall in Lincoln Center. The New York Philharmonic and a talented cast of singers performed the fully-staged performance, with Alan Gilbert conducting.

My mother told me that the staging was controversial because it was so avant-garde, but I'm not sure an opera completed in the mid 70s and revised in 1996 could be staged in a way that wasn't avant-garde. Before the show started, I was a little worried because the stage was so sparse, dominated by a gigantic circular screen suspended above the orchestra. An area on the right provided a place from which "live animation" was captured by cameras and projected onto the screen, providing setting and accompanying imagery for the characters on stage. No super titles were used; the program states that there were no super titles in order to allow the audience to fully enjoy the spectacle, but I think that it might have been because the director didn't want to have words like "jiz" and "ass-licker" projected in huge letters above the New York Philharmonic. I found that I had to read the libretto for full enjoyment because I couldn't understand most of what was being said/sung.

I really enjoyed the creativity of the production. The live animation was well done, the singers were excellent (with the exception of the understudy for the character, Venus, who couldn't be heard), and the staging involved some amount of audience participation as cast members wandered the aisles and orchestra members played from various parts of the hall off-stage.

The music itself is atonal, which means that no one tone is more important than any other. Unfortunately, this means that there wasn't a single hummable melody through the entire production. When this is the case, the production has to rely on qualities other than strength of music, which is perhaps why the costumes and live animation were so wild. I have a great appreciation for all forms of classical music, but I found myself thinking of the cast as actors instead of singers. Everyone I went with thought the opera was too long -- after all, there is only so much atonal music one can handle in one sitting.

The New York audience was really into the production. They seem to love Alan Gilbert, and shouted and cheered loudly when he appeared on stage (the first time it was appropriate). They laughed uproariously whenever something even slightly crude was done on stage; at one point, a line drawing of a penis pushed across the screen in a thrusting motion, which was apparently extremely humorous and shocking. I didn't laugh, though. Those of us who are familiar with modern forms of communication and entertainment are not easily shocked by images of genitalia -- if you really want to be shocked, do a search for "penis" on the internet. But I suppose that *Le Grand Macabre* is a good way for conservative types to enjoy crassness while still being fully immersed in a high-class art form.

*Le Grand Macabre* is playing for another 2 nights. As of right now, there are 7 seats left for May 28 and 5 seats left for May 29, so you should [buy tickets online](http://nyphil.org/attend/season/index.cfm?page=eventDetail&eventNum=1784&seasonNum=9) now if you want to go!