Speaking (sic) as a stammerer, I’m always on the lookout for coverage of speech imp-p-pediments (see e.g. We have ways of making you talk; Stammering games; Pontius Pilate, and the mad jailers; Lost for words; and for more stammering songs, see here).
So in György Ligeti‘s wacky, grotesque, absurdist opera Le Grand Macabre (see e.g. this article by Tom Service) I note the character of Gepopo, whose extreme vocal irregularities occupy a special place in the spectrum of communication issues.
The astounding Barbara Hannigan introduces the role she has made her own:
The character Gepopo, the chief of the secret police of Brueghelland, approaches Prince Go-Go to warn him and the people of Brueghelland that intelligence has learned of a huge comet heading through space towards them which will destroy their planet. Unfortunately, Gepopo is paralyzed with fear and paranoid hysteria, so his almost unintelligible, coded warning is not easily understood by Prince Go-Go, who, mainly interested in a hearty meal, drives Gepopo to further convulsions of highflying vocal panic as the piece draws to a anxiety-ridden finale.
Shades of the Pearl and Dean theme tune? So far this passage has not found favour as an in-flight announcement (cf. The perils of the tannoy, and Putana da seatbeltz; for airline acronyms, see here). But I digress…
Psychotic, deranged, Gepopo is hardly an advertisement for easy stammering—no more to be recommended as speech therapy than Rossini’s “stupefaction ensembles”. BTW, reasons for the far higher ratio of male to female stammerers are still not well understood.
Here’s Barbara Hannigan in an, um, “orthodox” stage version:
Gepopo’s three arias (“Pssst! … Shsht! … Cocococo!“, “Aah! … Secret cipher!“, and “Kukuriku! … He’s coming!“) are also performed as a cycle arranged by Elgar Howarth for the concert stage as Mysteries of the macabre—here conducted (suitably) by S-S-S-Simon:
Dazzling as it is, I’m not sure it’s exactly PC to distract the audience from Gepopo’s demented sadism with a fantasy schoolgirl uniform—perhaps the transgressive, meretricious device suits Ligeti’s concept (discuss…). We might also compare this version:
Feminist scholars have unpacked gender roles in music (including Berg‘s Lulu, another of Hannigan’s star roles, which she explores perceptively—and fluently!— here; see also here), with cross-genre discussions of the femme fatale/diva/prima donna (more here), and such an approach could be instructive here too.
With thanks to Rowan—
whose own vocals, while not so ambitious,
are “less irritating than Glenn Gould”
(The Feuchtwang Variations, n.3).