The Great Macabre

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October 2024



The one and only opera written by the Hungarian-Austrian composer György Ligeti, a major representative of the 20th-century avant-garde, Le Grand Macabre is a truly remarkable work, in many a respect surpassingthat that which is commonly expected from a piece of this genre. Loosely based on the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode’s play La balade du grand macabre, Ligeti provocatively branded it “anti-anti-opera”. Le Grand Macabre presents an extremely bizarre apocalyptic vision of a world gone mad, teeming with characters of such telling names as Nekrotzar, Piet The Pot, Clitoria, Spermando … Ligeti’s spectacular operatic fresco, set in a fictitious city bearing an equally telling name, Breughelland, not only shocks by featuring harsh, spine-chilling and perverse images, it is also striking in terms of the score, with the musical idiom encompassing conventional instruments, but also giving scope to a large variety of entirely unprecedented sounds, produced by car-horns, electric doorbells, a sledgehammer, an alarm clock, paper bags, a tray full of crockery, a saucepan, a pistol and other items.


Le Grand Macabre received its world premiere in Stockholm in 1978. Later on, Ligeti made considerable revisions to the opera for a production at the Salzburger Festspiele in 1997.


Audiences are advised that there will be gun shots and acting events will also take place in the auditorium where actors in masks will be present. 

Suitable for audiences aged 15 and over.




Scene 1
A desolate cemetery in the fictional principality of Breughelland. We see a drunkard, Piet the Pot, as well as Amanda and Amando, a smitten couple craving physical bliss. Observing them, Piet mocks the lovers, yet they ignore his jeers and seek a place where they can freely embrace. All of a sudden, Piet is taken aback by an odd figure emerging from a nearby tomb. The sinister apparition proceeds to announce that Piet, and the whole of Breughelland for that matter, will tonight perish in Death’s gullet. He introduces himself as Nekrotzar and asks Piet to bring from the tomb his instruments of revenge: a scythe and bugle. Piet realises that he faces the Grand Macabre, Death itself: yes, the end of the world is indeed nigh! Nekrotzar looks around for a horse, but eventually has to mount Piet, and he triumphantly rides towards the city. As though nothing were happening, Amanda and Amando have meanwhile entered the vacated tomb, and now, passionately sighing, revel in carnal love...


Scene 2
In their bizarre home, the astronomer Astradamors and his wife Mescalina indulge in sadomasochistic games. The dominant Mescalina evidently enjoys herself more than Astradamors, who seems to feign pleasure. After Mescalina ceases to humiliate and torture Astradamors, she commands him to look through his telescope to learn of what’s new in the sky and find out whether Venus is where she should be. Envious of her erotic successes, the unsated Mescalina asks Venus for at least one night of true lust. When the inebriated Mescalina falls asleep, Astradamors starts grumbling and calling her names – he longs for nothing more than to get rid of her. At that moment, Nekrotzar whirls into the astronomer’s house. Astradamors first panics, yet soon recognises Piet, a friend of his, and cordially welcomes him. In the meantime, Mescalina speaks with Venus from her sleep. Even though Venus has afforded her two husbands and numerous paramours, Mescalina feels neglected and sexually frustrated, pining for new delights. Her wish is presently met – she is seized by Nekrotzar. Astradamors
and Piet watch the scene attentively. During intercourse, Nekrotzar bites Mescalina, whereupon she dies. He then orders to get rid of the corpse. Unsurprisingly, Astradamors rejoices that his hated wife is finally gone. Meanwhile, Nekrotzar eagerly awaits the arrival of a fiery comet. Upon seeing it is rapidly approaching, with Astradamors and Piet keenly assisting him, he invokes the end of the world. Nekrotzar, like a Rider of the Apocalypse, races to the city streets.


Scene 3
First we witness a heated argument between the White and Black Ministers, hurling at each other peppery insults in alphabetical order. Prince Go-Go, the hereditary ruler of Breughelland, strives to appease them. The two politicians react by giving him a riding lesson and an exercise in royal posturing, causing the young man great unease. Having a penchant for good food, the Prince would rather feast, yet the ministers compel him to sign new, entirely absurd laws. When he refuses to do so, they threaten to leave their offices forthwith. To their surprise, Go-Go accepts their resignation without hesitation. The Chief of the Gepopo, the secret police, arrives and, in a strangely neurotic language, informs the Prince of impending havoc – the people in the city have risen up and panic without any reason, and an agitated crowd is marching towards the royal palace. The White and Black Ministers address the gathered demonstrators, yet are booed. The people demand to see the ruler himself. Prince Go-Go duly comes forward and is enthusiastically hailed. His speech meets with cheers. The Chief of the Gepopo returns with more news – a fiery comet is hurtling towards the earth, which can give rise to an immense disaster. He appeals to the Prince to adopt “stern measures”, yet when Go-Go calls on the ministers to take the respective steps, they respond evasively and edge away. This pleases the Prince, as no one will interfere with his “governance”. The Chief of the Gepopo, however, hysterically announces an Apocalypse. Yet instead of the promised Apocalypse, the gleeful Astradamors appears. Both Go-Go and Astradamors exult at their acquired freedom – the former is rid of his ministers, the latter of his wife. The people’s cries for help and the ominous sounds outside ultimately so terrify the Prince that he hides under the table. There ensues the grandiose arrival of Nekrotzar and his macabre entourage. A harbinger of Death, the impassioned Nekrotzar announces the imminent final hour of humanity. The people of Breughelland groan and lament, while Astradamors and Piet decide to spend the time that remains until midnight carousing – and they immediately begin swilling it down. Growing increasingly drunk, they poke fun at Nekrotzar, getting more and more audacious. Resolved to accomplish his mission and dazzled by the prospective horrors, Nekrotzar accepts from his jolly companions a cup, believing it contains human blood. The three continue to booze wildly, with Astradamors and Piet topping up Nekrotzar’s cup. After a while, they are joined by Prince Go-Go, who was hiding under the table. When the revelry has reached its apex, Nekrotzar suddenly comes to his senses and begins seeking his scythe, so he can finally perform his task. For the last time, he announces the end of the world, before, totally soused, falling to the ground, exclaiming “All is done!” (“Consummatum est!”)


Scene 4
Following an intermezzo depicting the Last Judgement, the story returns to where it commenced. Piet meets Astradamors. Both of them assume they are dead, with their spirits ascending to celestial bliss. Alone and feeling desperately lonely, Prince Go-Go believes he is the only one to have survived Doomsday. Yet three ruffians – Ruffiack, Schobiack and Schabernack – carrying stolen items, appear out of the blue. When it seems that Prince Go-Go could fall victim to their greed, Nekrotzar emerges – perplexed, he does not understand that even after the world has ended he can see people alive. He again seeks his scythe, but is so enervated that he yearns only to return to the tomb from which he rose yesterday as the Grand Macabre. Suddenly Mescalina, who has come back to life, confronts him. Nekrotzar flees, yet she chases him, calling him a demon and biblical monster. Prince Go-Go sends Ruffiack, Schobiack and Schabernack to Nekrotzar’s aid, and Mescalina is detained. She resists, even claiming that Nekrotzar is her former husband, which he does not explicitly deny. The odd post-apocalyptic group is then extended by the White and Black Ministers, whom Mescalina knows very well. The three become embroiled in a quarrel, arguing about which of them is responsible for the most atrocious crimes – whether she, who has devised inquisition and mass graves, or the ministers, who were planning a coup, and the like ... During the subsequent scuffle the participants kill one another. Astradamors and Piet turn up again. Prince Go-Go comes back to life, whereupon the three enter into a debate concerning whether they are alive or dead. Meanwhile, Nekrotzar disappears... Was he really the Grand Macabre, or was he someone else? “What is asked remains unanswered,” Piet proclaims. After a night of passion spent in a tomb, Amanda and Amando re-emerge at long last. Mescalina, the two ministers and the three ruffians are resurrected. All bid farewell and deliver the final message, along the lines of: “Let us live – until death ...!”

Program and cast

Approximate running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, no intermission

Language: In English, surtitles in Czech, English


Conductor: Jiří Rožeň

Piet the Pot: Thor Inge Falch

Amanda: Magdaléna Hebousse

Nekrotzar: Marcus Jupither

Astradamors: Ivo Hrachovec

Mescalina: Victoria Khoroshunova

Venus: Eir Inderhaug

Chief of Gepopo: Eir Inderhaug

Princ Go-Go: David DQ Lee

The White Minister: Benjamín Hájek

The Black Minister: Michal Marhold

Ruffiack: Martin Kreuz; Dalibor Pavelka

Schobiack: Pavel Borek; Andrey Styrkul

Schabernack: Tomáš Bartůněk; Vít Palacký


State Opera Chorus
State Opera Orchestra
National Theatre Opera Ballet
The boys choir Pueri gaudentes


Creative team

Stage director, Sets and Costumes - Nigel Lowery

Light design - Lothar Baumgarten

Video design - Lukáš Panoch

Chorus master - Adolf Melichar

Dramaturgy - Ondřej Hučín


Photo gallery
Serghei Gherciu
© Serghei Gherciu
Serghei Gherciu
© Serghei Gherciu
Serghei Gherciu
© Serghei Gherciu
Serghei Gherciu
© Serghei Gherciu

Prague State Opera

The State Opera today


The State Opera (formerly the State Opera Prague, between 1948 and 1992 the Smetana Theatre, and originally the New German Theatre) has been a part of the National Theatre since 2012. The Opera and Ballet ensembles give repertory performances at the State Opera.




The Prague State Opera resides in the building which on January 5, 1888 was opened as a Prague German stage with the performance of Wagner’s opera, The Mastersingers of Nürnberg. In the 19th century, Prague Germans performed in the Estate’s Theater in alternation with a Czech company. Desire for their own theater led to negotiations in 1883 for the construction of a new theater building for the German Theater Association. Over the next three years, a blueprint was drawn up and handed over to the Vienna atelier of Fellner and Hellmer. Also sharing in the design was the architect of the Vienna Municipal Theater, Karl Hasenauer, while Prague architect Alfons Wertmüller took part in the construction. Financing came from private collections. With its spacious auditorium and neo-Rococo decoration, this theater building is among the most beautiful in Europe.




By car

On Wilsonova street, from the left lane close to the State Opera building take the slip road to the Slovan above-ground garage. The parking fee is 40 CZK/h.


By tram


By daytime tram No. 11 to the stop “Muzeum”, through the underpass beneath Legerova street in the direction of the NationalMuseum, at the crossroads turn right along the NewBuilding of the NationalMuseum.


By daytime trams Nos. 3, 9, 14 and 24 or night trams Nos. 51, 52, 54, 55, 56 and 58 to the stop “Václavské náměstí”, then by foot uphill on the left side of the Wenceslas Square to the traffic lights across Wilsonova and Vinohradská streets. Then turn left along the NewBuilding of the NationalMuseum.


By metro

To the “Muzeum” station, lines A and C (green and red), and then by foot along the NewBuilding of the NationalMuseum.

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