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Gyorgy Ligeti: Le Grand Macabre [Gran Teatre del Liceu] Blu-ray Review

Posted October 17th, 2012 by Lawrence D. Devoe, MD

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  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Video Codec: AVC/MPEG-4
  • Resolution: 1080i/60
  • Audio Codec: PCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Subtitles: French, German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Korean
  • Region: ABC (Region-Free)
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Discs: 1 (1 x Blu-ray)
  • Studio: Arthaus Musik
  • Blu-ray Release Date: September 25, 2012
  • List Price: $39.99

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Overall
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The Performance
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Video Quality
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Audio Quality
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Supplemental Materials
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Click thumbnails for high-resolution 1920X1080p screen captures

(All Blu-rayDefinition.com screen captures are lightly compressed with lossy JPEG at 100% quality setting and are meant as a general representation of the content. They do not fully reveal the capabilities of the Blu-ray format)

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The Performance

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Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti might be best known to US audiences from his Lux Aeterna that is included in the soundtrack of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Actually, Ligeti was a very successful 20th century modernist who incorporated the sounds of the times in his many and varied scores. Le Grand Macabre, based on a theater of the absurd play by Michel de Ghelderode, is presented as a morality play in which the spirit of Death (Nekrotzar) visits the world of mortals. Nekrotzar arrives in Breughelland and meets a series of bizarre characters including the drunkard Piet and the astronomer, Astrodamors.  He eventually arrives at the court of Prince Go-Go and foretells the end of the world. Although, the apocalypse does not actually happen, it is unclear at the opera’s end whether any of the disconnected events in the script were real or an illusion. The inspiration for the sets and costumes appears to have leaped off a Hieronymus Bosch canvas. The staging features a large body sculpture of a naked woman overlooking the singers. With an extremely clever use of projections, we get a visually arresting presentation of a work that is a classical in-your-face opera. Video and audio recording are at the top of the heap and represent the best effort to get unfamiliar viewers exposed to this avant-garde opera.

Video Quality

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This is near demonstration quality video. With brilliant sets that complement the rather circuitous plot, projections that are “outta sight,” and detail that gives each of the singers a Facebook moment, viewers get the full visual impact that such an opera requires.

Audio Quality

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This opera is sung in English but I would recommend that subtitles be activated, even if you are an English-speaker, since some the singers’ accents are hard to understand. That aside, the Ligeti score is something out of the atonal playbook for modern music enthusiasts to savor. Occasional quotes from earlier composers like Beethoven and Rossini seem to come out of nowhere and then disappear.  The musical landscape is also dotted with automobile horns, alarm clocks and doorbells in the various scenes.

Supplemental Materials

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Thank you, thank you, we get a lengthy explication from the dramatic company La Fura del Baus, on the creation of this production. I would recommend that potential viewers take this in before going on the Le Grande Macabre adventure.

The Definitive Word

Overall:

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Twentieth century opera has always had its issues for the general opera-going public: tonality, inspiration, themes, and sheer singability. Ligeti’s only opera is no longer a novelty and yet, thirty five years later, Le Grand Macabre will still raise the hackles of the opera traditionalists. All of that aside, this was a fascinating watch and a testimonial to the genius of the Barcelona production team. Vocal recognition goes to all involved, particularly tenor Chris Merritt as the alcoholic Piet the Pot, the homosexual couple, Amando and Amanda (Ines Moraleda and Ana Puche), and,countertenor Brian Asawa as Prince Go-Go. Most importantly, the lead role of Nekrotzar is authoritatively managed by Werner Van Mechelen. The musical affairs benefit from the knowing baton of Michael Boder, principal conductor of the Gran Teatre del Liceu. Le Grand Macabre is a fascinating watch and most unlike the standard operatic repertory. The musical idiom is challenging and unfamiliar but with a production this good, it might do you some good to venture outside of your opera comfort zone and go for this BD.

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Overall
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The Performance
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Video Quality
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Audio Quality
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Supplemental Materials
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Tags: Arthaus Musik, Classical Music, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Gyorgy Ligeti, Le Grand Macabre, Opera

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