I'm not sure who annoys me more--people who claim to adore this opera because it's so "wacky" and "crazy," or people who dismiss it as childish and chaotic rubbish. For that matter, toss in amateurs who approach and evaluate Ligeti solely from the appallingly limited perspective of their experiences of "2001: A Space Odyssey."
1) The opera--the COMPOSITION--is not anarchic: it's beautifully written & scored, well-structured (more so in this modern edited version), and profoundly purposeful--inspired from stem to stern. It's a brilliant composer's DEPICTION of absurdity (I'd argue the definitive musical depiction), and large stretches of it often remind me of the opening storm scene from Verdi's Othello. It's also beautiful. Generic opera buffs, if they ever troubled themselves to get their snouts out of the comfortable distant past, would marvel at the endless nods to tradition present in Le Grande Macabre. Equally, noise-band fans and alternative types who claim to admire Le Grande Macabre too often just don't get far beyond the opera's surface features. They like the opera for the same dumb reasons that others dislike it.
2) It's grindingly clear from the peevish one-star reviews that the dismissive types really shouldn't be going anywhere near material like this, any more than a first-year German student should be writing critiques of Goethe, or some teen photoshop geek should be evaluating de Kooning. The Ones-Stars' reviews reveal an awful truth--that being a fan of classical music does not automatically make you intelligent or perceptive, or prove that you are any more musically sophisticated than the average five-year-old, who can clap along to Vivaldi as well as anyone else who wrongly treats that great composer as a creator of classy "Easy Listening" pieces. I've argued for years that too many consume classical music as a hoity-toity form of elevator musak; those people shouldn't write reviews, ESPECIALLY of music like this.
3) This is a great opera. I've been familiar with it for nearly twenty years now and, like any masterpiece, it gets better and MORE interesting over time. Arguing about the respective merits of the only two recordings, especially when they are two different VERSIONS, seems a little silly. I like the Wergo recording for any number of reasons: one being that since it's sung in German I can (when I want to) focus more easily on Ligeti's extraordinary music. It's also an enthusiastic performance. This Sony recording is also fine, and sung in English it makes the experience more properly theatrical. This tighter version is as appropriate for the times as the looser-limbed original version was for its less stick-up-hinder era. Buying both helps one learn more about the piece, and a lot about Ligeti, who is a composer who can be glibly dismissed or ignorantly misunderstood only at one's peril.
OK--Ligeti was a genius, and he wrote one opera and I suspect it was the only opera he felt could or should be written in an era of profound cultural decay. The opera is about us, and, in a way, it is about these reviews, and Amazon reviews as a whole, and the entire goofball mess that is our modern apocalyptic world. This is the sort of art that sane, immensely talented, profoundly gifted people are almost compelled to produce in insane times. People may ooh and coo over the comforting NPR-ish predictabilities, unchallenging music, and pseudo-profound moral non-dilemmas* of recent products by Adams, Glass, and Tan Dun, but for me, Le Grande Macabre is the mighty capstone to the great Western operatic tradition that started with Monteverdi.
*I really worry about people who think the Achille Lauro incident or Robert Oppenheimer's anxieties over an issue everyone in the audience has already made up their minds about is something up there with Chekov or Tolstoy. These composers (despite their claims) don't challenge; they meet & match audience expectations as scrupulously as some pleaser like Meyerbeer (Tan Dun is easily the new Meyerbeer). Worse, these composers turn moral issues into nebulous comfortable hash--everything reduced to a "well, I guess everybody's right and everybody's wrong, and we all have our different perspectives" sort of spineless mush.