My Year of Opera: Le Grand Macabre

Ending the year with a bang. Holy crap, what an experience! I have heard Ligeti’s opera a few times (both the German and English translations) but never thought I’d see it. When San Francisco put it on a few years back, I strongly considered flying out to see it but, as a doctoral student, couldn’t justify the cost. I never thought there would be a video of the work since, even though Ligeti is a big name, the opera probably wasn’t going to sell well enough for a company to produce it.

Hooray for YouTube! Ryan Oldham, composer and trumpeter for the Ensemble of Irreproducable Outcomes, posted this link a few months back. I managed to watch the first act on the spot but never got around to seeing the second until a few days ago. Sung in English with Catalan subtitles, this video does everything to clarify/confuse everything that I’d heard in the recordings. Le Grand Macabre actually captured all the visual elements I saw in my mind.

In some ways, it was like watching Ades’ Powder Her Face which makes a LOT more sense in the video than it does on audio only. But, Ligeti being a better composer than Ades (warning: opinion stated as fact) so I actually got a lot of enjoyment and narrative from just listening. Watching, seeing, experiencing (as much as YouTube could allow) only deepened my understanding of it.

Turns out there are a ton of operas on YouTube. All violating various copyright laws, I’m sure, but there you go. In this instance, I didn’t feel at all guilty. And I’d do it again. Probably will.

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