Adelaide Festival Theatre
Reviewed Sunday February 28th 2010 (See Festival Guide for dates, times, etc.)
Presented by The Adelaide Festival in association with the State Opera of SA. A co-production of the Théatre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels; English National Opera, London; Gran Teatro de Liceu, Barcelona; Grand Teatro de Liceu, Barcelona and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma.
Bookings: BASS outlets 131 246 or http://www.adelaidefestival.com.au
Hungarian born composer, György Ligeti’s (1923-2006) only opera was inspired by the paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569), primarily landscapes and scenes of peasant life along with some, such as The Triumph of Death and Dulle Griet (sometimes knows as either Dull Gret or Mad Meg), that have demonological subjects. The opera, based on the play La Balade du Grand Macabre by Belgian author, Michel de Ghelderode, is set in Breughelland (Breugel dropped the ‘h’ from his name in later life) and has a libretto by Michael Meschk and Ligeti. Originally premiered in 1978, this revised version is from 1997.
Alex Ollé (La Fura Dels Baus) and Valentina Carrasco directed this production and they make reference to the fact that the original play was written for puppet theatre by making the set, designed by Alfons Flores, a giant, naked woman, whom they have named Claudia, as much a part of the performance as the singers. In part this is done using the set piece itself but it is also due to the amazing application of video projections, designed by Franc Aleu, onto this gigantic body. With Claudia revolving between and during scenes, animating her head and opening and closing to reveal other scenes, added to Peter Van Praet’s very complex lighting plot, this is one of the most elaborate shows, from a technical perspective, that you are likely to see. The visual aspect of the production is further enhanced by the imaginative costumes of Lluc Castells.
Conductor, Robert Houssart, has the superb Adelaide Symphony Orchestra at his command, and they get a real workout with this intricate and complex score that calls for huge forces, including the seldom heard contra-bass trombone, contrabassoon, bass trumpet and oboe d’amore. There is a great use of brass and six percussionists are fully employed playing a list of instruments as long as several arms, including such unusual items as electric doorbells, sirens, bird whistles and duck callers. To go into an analysis of the music, its irony, ambiguity, use of parody of earlier composers and styles and an explanation of anti-anti-opera, Ligeti’s response to the anti-opera of Mauricio’s Staatstheater, would run into volumes. There is also some excellent work from the offstage voices of the State Opera Chorus and from the dancers.
Nekrotzar arises from his tomb intent on destroying the world with a meteor and encounters the drunkard, Piet The Pot (Piet vom Fass). The lovers, Amando (Spermando) and Amanda (Clitoria), looking for a secluded place to fornicate hear Nekrotzar’s voice and espy Piet, accusing him of voyeurism. They slip away into the seclusion of Nekrotzar’s tomb to continue their coupling. The court astrologer, Astradamors, is in a sadomasochistic relationship with his wife, Mescalina, and we discover him wearing women’s underwear with her beating him. Nekrotzar enlists the aid of Venus and he has sex with Mescalina, biting her on the neck.
She dies and Astradamors, free of her, follows Nekrotzar and Piet to the court of Prince Go Go, where the Black Politician and the White politician plot and against the prince and each other while Chief of the “Gepopo”, the Secret Political Police talks in nonsensical terms of approaching doom. Nekrotzar says he will destroy the world, then falls asleep, drunk. Piet and Astradamors believe they have died and Ruffiack, Schobiack and Schabernack appear, taking Prince Go Go prisoner. Nekrotzar awakens, mayhem ensues, the world has not been destroyed, Mescalina was not dead and reappears, Nekrotzar goes back to his tomb and the lovers reappear. All then sing that, as we never know when our death will come, we should live life to the full while we may.
The central role of Nekrotzar is sung by Roderick Earle who, aside from having a superb voice that ideally suits the role, brings a menacing and imposing persona to the character. Chris Merritt’s Piet the Pot is full of fun for, in spite of what might at first appear from the synopsis, there is a great deal of humour in this dark work. Merritt injects his role with a good combination of humour and fear. Frode Olsen’s Astradamors is suitably submissive to Ning Liang’s Mescalina, the two providing strong characterisations and adding to the deviant humour.
Counter tenor, Brian Asawa, as Prince Go Go, Adam Goodburn as the White Minister and Christopher Tonkin as the Black Minister provide a wealth of knockabout comedy as the Marx Brothers of the piece, wheedling and conniving for top position. Susanna Andersson is sublime as the panic stricken Chief of the Secret Political Police. There is good supporting work from the rest of the cast that manages to prevent the set dominating the production.
This is an experience not to be missed, with stunning visuals and the superb performances by all concerned.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Glam Adelaide Arts Editor.