It will be a landmark event when Alan Gilbert, still in his inaugural season as Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, leads the orchestra and a cast of dynamic singers in a staged, multi-media production of Le Grand Macabre, an opera by Hungarian composer György Ligeti that received its premiere in 1978 in Stockholm. Though one of the most frequently performed contemporary operas, Ligeti’s masterpiece – a darkly comic, surreal, and surprisingly moving work about the apparent end of the world – has, remarkably, never before been performed in its entirety in New York. The staged performances at Avery Fisher Hall (May 27 – 29, 2010, with an open rehearsal on May 26) will feature designs and direction by Doug Fitch, a genre-crossing artist who has collaborated with Gilbert on a number of projects including staged operas at Santa Fe Opera and Los Angeles Opera. Gilbert observes, “I think Doug’s plans for this opera are perfect for this piece, and this remarkable score will, I’m sure, be given a superb performance by the New York Philharmonic musicians and an extremely talented cast of singers. I think it’s going to be an absolutely compelling rendition of this landmark of 20th-century opera.”
Ligeti’s utterly original music has long been attractive to Gilbert, who first came into contact with it as a violinist in the composer’s Horn Trio. In March 2007, as a guest conductor of the New York Philharmonic, Gilbert led the orchestra in a performance of Ligeti’s Violin Concerto (with soloist Christian Tetzlaff) that the New York Times called “a knockout” – and it was later selected by the same critic as one of the best musical events of the year. In an interview published in the May issue of Opera News, Gilbert explains to writer William R. Braun the decision to perform this particular opera.