György Ligeti

Mysteries of the Macabre /
Le Grand Macabre


“Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre may not look a crowd-pleaser, but it is when Barbara Hannigan enters dressed as a schoolgirl, spits out her bubblegum… and lets fly a virtuoso display of rapid-fire gibberish and sky-high top notes. Ligeti’s slice of absurdist nonsense is one of Hannigan’s party pieces and it is hard to imagine anyone bringing it off with more pizzazz.”

Financial Times, Richard Fairman, 19 January 2015

“Show-stopping… Dressed as a naughty schoolgirl “chief of police”, insouciantly handing her chewing-gum to Rattle, her body language as slithery and bizarre as the astonishing coloratura she pealed out, [Hannigan] delivered in 12 mesmerising minutes the blackly prophetic essence of the opera”

The Times, Richard Morrison, 19 January 2015

“The amazing Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan – who else can, or would, skip on to the Barbican stage in high heels and white pop socks? – was hilarious and brilliant in Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. Don’t miss her.”

The Observer, Fiona Maddocks, 18 January 2015

“After a swift change into a St Trinians-style outfit, complete with knee-high socks and the shortest of short skirts, Hannigan brought the house down with her vocal and histrionic daring in Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre

The Guardian, 16 January 2015

“There are a couple of stunning performances online by the fearless Barbara Hannigan (one with Simon Rattle on vocal form) which demand to be seen.”

Gramophone, January 2014

“Then there is Barbara Hannigan, who is currently always the first choice when it comes to New Music. It says “soprano” in the programme. That is an understatement. As a force of nature Hannigan is a successor of the legendary “crazy voice artist” Cathy Berberian. But first she evokes a stressed, fluttery “daughter of the skies” as the Luonnotar by Jean Sibelius. (…)
Hannigan is not afraid of the Finnish lyrics and Rattle, like all Englishmen, is a firm believer in Sibelius. Thus this almost never performed short cantata becomes a poem effortlessly uniting passion, nature, myth, coloratura and chthonian murmurs.
(…)
Barbara Hannigan succeeds in making every coloratura a caricature. Every coo is a grotesque; Nonsense is a cabaret. (…) The bogey of the grand macabre, with which so many stages struggle, becomes tangible reality in Hannigan’s brilliantly sung and performed solo show, ridiculous and yet menacing.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung, Reinhard Brembeck, 03 November 2012

“Simon Rattle gave the orchestra amble opportunity to showcase its qualities. Nevertheless, Barbara Hannigan took the cake this time. Following the melancholic sound adventures by Sibelius (Luonnotar), she launched headfirst into the difficult coloraturas of the three arias from György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre. A ludicrous trapeze act frenetically celebrated by the audience.”

Abendzeitung München, Volker Boser, 03 November 2012

“Barbara Hannigan captivated the audience with an equally tender and expansive linearly controlled high soprano. Together with the orchestra that reared up from the unreal to the fierce, she told of the mythical genesis of the firmament.
In the three arias from Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre, the singer charged across the podium in patent leather. Ravishing and beautiful up to the highest heights.”

Münchner Merkur, Gabriele Luster, 03 November 2012

“To contrast Rattle chose the mystical nature tone poem Luonnotar for soprano and orchestra by Jean Sibelius with the phenomenal soprano Barbara Hannigan. (…) And Hannigan and Rattle accomplish the feat of creating suggestively mystical sound spaces out of this rarely heard music.
(…)
The audience, in any case, which could not have been expected, was beside itself with excitement with the virtuoso grotesque bravura arias of a somewhat different nature that Barbara Hannigan performs quite captivatingly and with full vocal and physical dedication.”

Klassikinfo.de, Robert Jungwirth, 02 November 2012

“The Canadian soprano sings the three coloratura arias dressed as a dominatrix, is involved in sound duels with the musicians, who must also utter noises, fights Rattle for the conductor’s stand and amazes with her ludicrous perfection and vocal imagination. Tout court: She properly wraps the audience around her little finger.”

Landshuter Zeitung / Straubinger Zeitung, Dr. Michael Bastian Weiß, 05 November 2012

“Virtuosity, tempered with zaniness, drives Mysteries of the Macabre, Elgar Howarth’s arrangement of Gepopo’s arias from Le Grande Macabre. Ms. Hannigan, Mr. Rattle and the players had fun with it: in one section Ms. Hannigan pushed Mr. Rattle away and conducted the orchestra; he stood aside for a minute then kicked her (literally) out of his space.
Elsewhere in the work, the orchestra is asked to vocalize — a modest demand, compared with sections of the Violin Concerto, where some of the players had to stand up and perform on ocarinas and what looked like pennywhistles. Amid all this Ms. Hannigan’s pinpoint vocalizations and fluid acting conveyed Ligeti’s parody of a secret-police chief with scalpel-edge sharpness.”

New York Times, 20 December 2010

“Sir Simon Rattle was literally kicked off the stage last night. The deviant kicker was a drunken crack-addeled woman with a fright wig and absurdly high-heels. She booted Sir Simon in the derrière, and insanely kidnapped the whole ACJW Ensemble, simultaneously screaming nonsense at her players and trying to conduct herself.
Then again, maybe Sir Simon deserved such treatment. After all, in the preceding piece he had been serenaded by no less than four ocarinas!! What serious conductor would permit such noises?
I don’t know the answer. But I know composer György Ligeti, would have loved it.
And when Barbara Hannigan is the soprano, and the screams erupt from the above-high-C non-stop cadenzas of Le Grand Macabre, and the whole thing is the farce of geniuses…that is good enough for an extraordinary Sunday evening.
…Back to Barbara Hannigan. The fright-wig, the heels, the drunken, doddering, the undressing were noting compared to her machine-gun delivery, her mad, astounding, adventures in a spectrum which only a dog could hear! This was-without any critical comment-one of the great experiences of music.”

ConcertoNet.com, 20 December 2010

“But even more riotous behavior was in store, in a memorable Mysteries of the Macabre with soprano Barbara Hannigan. This short suite, arranged by Elgar Howarth from Ligeti’s opera, Le Grand Macabre, recaps the three dazzling arias for Gepopo, the Chief of the Secret Police. Hannigan was one of the stars of last spring’s monumental success, a concert version of the opera also with Gilbert and the Philharmonic, but terrific as it was, it seemed tame compared to the melée we witnessed here.
Entering while slinking along a side wall in a floor-length black leather trench coat and a black Louise Brooks-style wig, Hannigan eventually flung the coat to the floor to reveal a lace-up patent leather dress, capped with enormous matching knee-high boots. At one point, she kicked Rattle in the derriere, knocking him off the podium, and began conducting the ensemble herself, before the conductor, mock-disgusted, booted her off to regain the helm. Other memorable antics included Rattle stopping in midstream, faking exasperation and storming into the midst of the players, and a percussionist rhythmically tearing up a poster of pop heartthrob Justin Bieber. The audience roared at the conclusion, as Hannigan lowered her legs in a pretzel-shaped bow, and Rattle casually retrieved her leather coat from the floor.”

MusicWeb International, 07 January 2010

“Barbara Hannigan was extraordinary in the stratospheric, rapid-fire vocalism of Gepopo.”

Wall Street Journal, 29 May 2010

“The soprano Barbara Hannigan deftly dispatched the coloratura leaps and runs of the punishing part of Gepopo, the chief of the secret police, while bringing demonic zaniness to her portrayal.”

New York Times 29 May 2010

“Kukuridu! Kikeriki!” So gurgelte die als Ledervamp garnierte Barbara Hannigan in drei Arien aus Ligetis Oper Le grand Macabre. Sie flötete, prustete, schoss Koloraturen in spitzeste Höhen, eine hochvirtuose überdrehte Partie, einmalig komisch.”

Kolnische Rundschau, 31 March 2010

“Eigentlich ist sie eine Blondine, die kanadische Koloratursopranistin Barbara Hannigan, aber diesmal kam sie mit schwarzer Mireille-Mathieu-Frisur. Und nicht nur das: Mit strengem bodenlangem Ledermantel und einem scharfen Supermini samt Netzstrümpfen sah die Sängerin nicht gerade aus wie eine Diva in Robe, die man sich im Großen Festspielhaus bei einem Karwochenkonzert der Salzburger Osterfestspiele erwartet. Allerdings wird man sich wohl auch in diesem ernsthaft-seriösen Rahmen einmal gut unterhalten dürfen nach Wagners Weltuntergangsvision der Götterdämmerung oder Bachs erbaulicher, christlicher Matthäuspassion. Am Dienstag jedenfalls hatte das Publikum im Großen Festspielhaus für kurze Zeit auch köstliche Unterhaltung, wofür György Ligetis Arien aus seiner bizarren Totentanz-Oper Le Grand Macabre sorgten, die in Barbara Hannigan eine nahezu ideale Singdarstellerin fanden.
Wie ein Spuk sprang Barbara Hannigan in ihrem Domina-Outfit auf die Bühne und setzte sich in Szene, im wahrsten Sinn. Mit enormer Stimmgewalt und fabelhafter Geschmeidigkeit meisterte sie irrwitzige Intervalle und höchste Höhen zum dadaistischen Text, warf den Mantel von sich, schubste Simon Rattle vom Pult und dirigierte selbst, auch der Maestro war ins Geschehen “szenisch”
eingebunden: “Weiß irgendjemand, was da vor sich geht?”, fragte er nach einem simulierten Wutausbruch ins erheiterte Publikum, das diesmal nach Ligeti jubelte, nachdem Barbara Hannigan bis zur letzten Luftreserve die sinnfreien Textsilben in den Saal geschleudert hatte.”

Salzburger Nachrichten, 31 March 2010

“Dazwischen erschien die fabulöse Koloratursopranistin Barbara Hannigan in Ledermantel, Netzstrümpfen und einer Lackkorsage für Ligetis Mysteries of the Macabre, drei wahnwitzige Arien aus dessen Oper gewordenem Altherrenwitz Le grand Macabre. Die Kanadierin gurrte, schrie, funkelte und vertrieb Simon Rattle, um sich selbst im Dirigieren zu versuchen.”

Abendzeitung, Salzburg, 30 March 2010

“The piece that raised this concert to an unforgettable climax was Mysteries of the Macabre, an arrangement of three soprano arias from György Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre made by Elgar Howarth, who conducted the opera’s premiere in 1978. Dressed in dark wig, leather coat, fishnets and PVC, like a cross between Berg’s Lulu and Madonna, Barbara Hannigan both sang and directed in a tour de force of performance and vocal brilliance. It was just as well that it finished the evening: nothing played afterwards could have lived up to it.”

Guardian, 02 December 2010

“The soprano enters, dressed in a short black leather dress, fishnet stockings and platform heels. With barely time for applause, she throws herself headlong into a stream of nonsense text, flinging out top notes as high as a kettle whistle while conducting the orchestra and behaving like a woman possessed. It is quite a tour de force.
This could only be one composer. Gyorgy Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre has been delighting and scandalising audiences since its premiere in 1978 and three of its short arias were subsequently arranged by Elgar Howarth to form a nine-minute concert piece called Mysteries of the Macabre. The Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan has made it her own. And how: strutting the stage in her titillating outfit, she embodies the sadomasochistic spirit of the opera to perfection, whipping herself and the orchestra into a near frenzy of musical extremism. It is no surprise that she is being sought after to perform this virtuoso miniature around the world. In the refined world of the concert hall, it explodes like a stink bomb – doubtless just what Ligeti had in mind.”

The Financial Times, 02 December 2010

Mysteries of the Macabre was performed here by the fearless soprano Barbara Hannigan. Wearing fishnet tights, spike heels and a leather trenchcoat, Ms Hannigan was a demonic presence. But even scarier was her uncanny ability to toss off the hysterical coloratura flights and nonsensical words… Ms Hannigan, Mr de Leeuw and the players were brought back for five bows by the audience.”

New York Times, 17 January 2006

“To call Barbara Hannigan a soprano is like calling Robin Williams a public speaker; the term doesn’t begin to cover her fearless verve or elasticity…the 8 minute theatrical tour-de-force left her spent and the audience roaring. Who said the avant-garde can’t be fun?”

New York Newsday, 16 January 2006

“The chamber orchestra served as accompaniment to one of the best vocal performances on a New York stage in quite some time…This is singing as an extreme sport, and Ms Hannigan was nothing short of electrifying.”

New York Sun, 16 January 2006

“The performance of Barbara Hannigan was frankly overwhelming, in Mysteries of the Macabre, a work based on three arias from Ligeti’s absurd opera Le Grand Macabre. Dressed in a long black leather coat, boots, and a black wig, Hannigan fired a virtuoso barrage of notes into the hall…what a concert!”

Trouw, November 2000

“The Canadian soprano Barbara Hannigan delivered a captivating display of three arias from the opera Le Grand Macabre. She presented Ligeti’s nonsense monologue in an overwhelming performance: impudent, witty, moving, and always perfectly coordinated with the ensemble. It was a totally astonishing achievement, that was given its deserved cheers.”

Kolner Stadt-Anzeiger, 27 October 2003

“In a black leather outfit, soprano Barbara Hannigan, setting afire a breathtaking fireworks display of technique and tempo, went to the extremes of human expression, and doused the orchestra with boiling hot emotion.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 08 May 2002

Mysteries of the Macabre functioned as a flamboyant ending, an excerpt from Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre, in which soprano Barbara Hannigan, dressed up in a long black coat and matching wig, her voice achieving the most staggering gymnastic feats, in a faultlessly choreographed combination with the crazy somersaults of the ensemble.”

De Volkskrant, 26 May 2003

“On y distingue tout particulièrement la soprano Barbara Hannigan, qui non seulement chante toutes les notes du rôle impossible de Gepopo, le chef de la police, mais le fait en enchaînant roulades et galipettes tout en restant toujours musicale”

Le Figaro France, March 2009

“The countertenor Brian Asawa was in splendid form as the sissified Prince Go-Go, and Barbara Hannigan excelled as Venus and as Gepopo, the chief of the secret police, whose warnings about Nekrotzar are obscured by barrages of sparkling coloratura.”

New York Times, 08 April 2009

“De opera werd gezongen in het Engels; Ligeti liet de uitvoerenden daarin vrij. Chris Merritt steelt de show als een fantastisch krijsende Piet the Pot. Werner van Mechelen speelt en zingt een opvallende Nekrotzar en de Canadees/Nederlandse Barbara Hannigan triomfeerde in haar schier onzingbare paraderol van Gepopo.”

Trouw, March 2009

“Et mention toute spéciale pour Vénus puis Le chef de la police secrète (Barbara Hannigan), brillamment cataclysmique ou déesse suave, qui, même seconds rôles, apporte une fraîche énergie, limpidité vocale, au lourd ensemble des ivrognes, nymphomanes, et fantoches…”

ResMusica, March 2009

“De cast is in goede doen. Werner Van Mechelen vertolkt Nekrotzar met een ongewone sereniteit, als het type van de droeve August. Aan het andere eind van het spectrum vind je Barbara Hannigan als Gepopo, de chef van de geheime politie. Op scène is ze de zenuwpees. Als ze zingt, klinkt ze als een stemacrobate die onwaarschijnlijke nonsens kan uitkramen op de allerhoogste noten.”

De Standaard Belgium, 26 March 2009

“Qu’elle personnifie Vénus ou Gepopo, le chef de la police secrète, Barbara Hannigan est formidable, musicienne exceptionnelle qui affronte avec désinvolture les vocalises les plus escarpées, actrice non moins remarquable à la silhouette de sirène.”

Les Echos France, 26 March 2009

“Zum Fürchten komisch die Koloratursopranistin Barbara Hannigan als Oberscherge Gepopo und als flatterhafte Venus – eine vokal wie darstellerisch brillante Doppelleistung.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 2009

“Glanzpunkt der Produktion ist aber die kanadische Sopranistin Barbara Hannigan, welche die halsbrecherischen Koloraturen des Geheimdienstchefs Gepopo bis ins Letzte ausreizt.”

Neue Zuricher Zeitung, March 2009

“…la formidable colorature Barbara Hannigan, Vénus sexy à la chevelure rose, ou Gepopo, le chef de la police secrète, affrontant, à la limite de la transe, des vocalises de folie.”

Le Monde, March 2009

“Die amerikanische Sopranistin Barbara Hannigan als Venus und Chef der Geheimpolizei schwebt und springt durch Breughelland wie ein Zeichentrick-Proteus und legt dabei sicher, präzise und leicht die irrwitzigsten Solopassagen hin.”

Deutschland Radio, 25 March 2009


to simplify things one can appreciate that no one else could achieve anything close to Barbara Hannigan’s musical and theatrical performanceGöteborgs Posten