Ligeti Le Grand Macabre, English National Opera, London Coliseum, London


Meet Claudia – a woman on the edge. The end of the world is nigh. So much junk food, so little time.

For Le Big Mac read Le Grand Macabre. Claudia is about to have a particularly alarming out-of-body experience. A whole lot of woman is about to get a whole lot more. Put it this way: if Claudia were able to stand up her head would go through the roof of the London Coliseum.

So begins this extraordinary staging – by Alex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco of the Catalan “total theatre” company La Fura dels Baus – of György Ligeti’s only opera. Claudia is designer Alfons Flores’ creation and she fills the Coliseum stage revolving through 360 degrees to reveal every unflattering aspect of her physiognomy. They say no man is an island, but this woman is. Or to be more precise, she is Breughelland, a paranoid and morally corrupt police state run by a sexually indeterminate Prince sporting a very high voice and lurex tunic (the excellent Andrew Watts). And when a mysterious visitor Nekrotzar (Pavlo Hunka) arrives to announce that the game will be up at precisely midnight, Claudia’s body becomes a repository for the entire world’s fear and loathing.

Allé and Carrasco’s production literally spills from her every orifice. At one point the black and white ministers (or should that be minstrels) of Breughelland (Daniel Norman and Simon Butteriss) emerge, appropriately enough, from her rear end to engage in a slanging match of A-Z obscenities. Claudia’s bowels (groaning under the weight of all that bingeing) are massaged by black-gloved hands before the Chief of Secret Police, Gepopo (the manic coloratura soprano of Susanna Andersson) explodes from within smelling subversion and foul play. Or is that simply smelling foul. Claudia’s worst nightmare, and ours, is an Hieronymous Bosch-like landscape of degradation and delight on which startling video projections (Franc Aleu) cast images of hellfire and decay. Claudia’s fleshly form dissolves into a skeleton before our eyes. Amazing.

But what’s it all for? On what level can we now engage with La Grand Macabre? Back in the 1980s it was an audacious and exceedingly smelly fart in the general direction of Opera. “Anti-Anti Opera”, Ligeti called it, and so it is – vocal conventions grotesquely distorted against an all snorting, all growling orchestra (brilliant under Baldur Bronnimann). Where else will you find a Monteverdian cacophony of motor horns?

But I’ve a sneaky feeling it was a one-time-only conceit, a cartoon stamped with a very short sell-by date. When the real Claudia finally makes it to the loo at the close she’s flushing away more than just her dinner. Toilet humour? That’s about the size of it.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine