Le Grand Macabre, based on the Michel de Ghelderode play Le Balade du grand macabre, takes place in Breughelland, a mythical land on the verge of the apocalypse. The absurdist story is echoed in the instrumentation, which includes car horns, the sound of paper tearing, and harmonicas.
Premiered in 1978 in Stockholm, Le Grand Macabre has rapidly become one of the most popular contemporary operas in Europe, having been revived 13 times. San Francisco Opera's production premiered at the Danish Royal Opera in 2001, and is directed by Kasper Holton, that company's artistic director.
"It is like watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon," Holton said. "Much of it is pure slapstick. To briefly describe Le Grand Macabre: it is a Berg opera meets Metropolis meets South Park."
Bass-baritone Williard White stars as the Grim Reaper figure Nekrotzar; the opening-night cast also includes sopranos Anne-Sophie Duprels, Susanne Resmark, and Caroline Stein; mezzo-soprano Sara Fulgoni; counter-tenor Gerald Thompson; and tenor Graham Clark. Michael Boder conducts.