Le Grand Macabre, Coliseum, London
The Rake's Progress, Peacock Theatre, London

Sing to the hand, the face is decomposing: An accommodating giantess steals the show in this triumphant production of Ligeti's surrealist farce

It starts with a burger, a pizza and several cans of beer. As György Ligeti's choir of car horns boxes our ears, mimicking and mocking the opening of a much older kind of opera, Claudia, the super-sized, fibreglass star of La Fura dels Baus's production of Le Grand Macabre, watches the news in her vest and knickers, guzzling the grease-glutted products of several well-known fast-food outlets.

On the television screen, rioters fill the streets. In the newspaper, a headline screams "Crisis!" Somewhere inside Claudia there's another crisis: a knot of pain so severe that she falls to the floor on her hands and knees. Is it a heart-attack? An embolism? Indigestion? Or simply the result of housing two pairs of lovers, a petulant Prince, an indigent drunk, a brace of bickering politicians, a dozen soldiers, three animatronic chickens, a nightclub and an ossuary in one female body?



Co-produced by English National Opera, La Monnaie, Brussels, Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona, and Teatro dell' Opera, Rome, Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco's Le Grand Macabre is a spectacular of the grotesque: a bawdy, flatulent cousin to Hervieu and Montalvo's exquisite production of Les Palladins. First seen on video, then frozen in fibreglass by designers Alfons Flores and Franc Aleu, Claudia is transformed into a vessel of horrors and delights: her eye-sockets windows for the mutually besotted Amando and Amanda (Frances Bourne and Rebecca Bottone), her flank a BDSM battlefield for Mescalina and Astradamors (Susan Bickley and Frode Olsen), her armpit the rank hiding place for Piet the Pot (Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke). Her thigh is a crude kitchen, her nipples riot-shields, her belly a disco where drunken soldiers pace out the dance routine from Michael Jackson's "Thriller", her arse a debating chamber for the tax-happy Black and White Ministers (Simon Butteriss and Daniel Norman), her open mouth the lair of Death, or Nekrotzar (Pavlo Hunka).



Bathed in starlight, licked by hellfire, caressed by a lover's hands, tattooed with the lost souls of Bosch and Brueghel, scanned and X-rayed to a skeleton, the mute giantess gapes helplessly; her features morphing into the mottled passivity of a Lucian Freud subject, the defensive grimace of Lynndie England, the bewildered cross-hatching of old age, and, with the (silent) flush of the lavatory that accompanies the last bars of this 1978 "anti-anti-opera", the soap-and-water prettiness of a Dove model.



One wonders what Ligeti would have made of the lavatory motif. Not much, I'd imagine. But it seems an apposite ending for a comedy that despite its many moments of audacious beauty – plundered from baroque and classical sources or painted in the frigid astral clusters of the composer's own style – is nihilistic, crude, even disposable. The enraptured suspensions of Amando and Amanda's duets, as ornately erotic as the intimacies of Monteverdi, will cede to boredom and irritation one day. Politicians are interchangeable, the monarchy (Andrew Watts's magnificent Prince Go-Go) spoiled and spineless, the military paranoid (Susanna Andersson's Gepopo), Venus capricious (Andersson again), the populace, as personified by Piet, Mescalina and Astradamors, superstitious and sensation-hungry, Nekrotzar a cartoon.



We're all going to die. So laugh while you can, marvel at the doorbells and speeding xylophones of a gargantuan percussion section, quake at the festering seams of scatological brass, swoon to the glacial delicacy of the passacaglias, and try not to be too bored by the A-Z of competitive insults. Under Baldur Brönnimann, ENO's orchestra realise the score with vivacity and discipline, while Watts, Andersson, Ablinger-Sperrhacke, Bourne and Bottone make the absurdities, exaggerations, uglinesses and angularities of Ligeti's vocal writing sparkle. A production like this only comes along once a decade. Forget the whingeing about English repertoire for English companies. This polyglot extravaganza is a triumph.



British Youth Opera's annual budget would barely run to one of La Fura dels Baus's Lycra bodysuits, yet William Kerley's modern-dress production of The Rake's Progress packed a well-honed punch. Nicky Spence's Tom was a Rake you might see on any suburban train from Charing Cross: sweaty in his too-tight Top Man shirt, cocky, unremarkable, a junior sales rep or IT support worker whose only sin is to dream of unearned wealth. Seduced by Derek Welton's Nick Shadow (a study of quiet, pitiless cruelty), he throws himself into an MTV dream of stretch limos and zipless sex. Slovenly and charmless, his look of anguish when he rejects sweet, homely Anne (Rhona McKail) was more powerful for the loutish behaviour that preceded it.



Though BYO's whores moved like school prefects, this was a lively, well-sung show, full of musicality and appreciation for the literary conceits of Auden's libretto. As Baba, Lilly Papaioannou had glamour and great comic timing, while Paul Curievici was a witty Sellem. As for Nicky Spence, a Tom with this much flair and energy would be a find for any professional company. In the pit there was smart work from the Southbank Sinfonia under Peter Robinson, though the use of a keyboard in place of a harpsichord struck me as one economy too far.

'Le Grand Macabre' : to 9 Oct (0871-911 0200)

Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal