Following its world premiere at the 2016 Salzburg Festival, where The Observer described it as ‘a turning point for Adès and, it felt, for opera itself’, and a critically acclaimed run of performances at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, Thomas Adès’s third opera The Exterminating Angel received its US premiere in October at New York's Metropolitan Opera.
Adès himself conducted a stellar cast of soloists in the original production by Tom Cairns. Based on Luis Buñuel’s surrealist classic El ángel exterminador, the opera sees a collection of society’s grandees inexplicably trapped in a room. The libretto, adapted from the original Buñuel-Alcoriza screenplay by the composer together with the director Tom Cairns brilliantly captures their descent into anarchy. Featuring a jaw-dropping 15 principals (who remain on stage for the majority of the piece), The Exterminating Angel is a true ensemble opera, and the skill with which Adès delineates the many intricacies and undercurrents present over its densely-packed span (just under two hours plus interval) is breathtaking. Like the shipwrecked characters of The Tempest, the cast of this new opera are held in a state of entrapment and dramatic stasis. Like the glittering high-society world of Powder Her Face, the dinner party guests are denizens of a nightmarish world of aristocratic pretension.
‘Stunningly inventive… In this audacious opera the music digs deep. Mr. Adès’s wild, searing score explores the emotional undercurrents of the story and fleshes out the horror of the characters’ situation. My one reservation about the opera when I first heard it was that to some degree, Mr. Adès explored the dark side of Buñuel’s tale at the expense of its bizarrely comic elements. But after hearing it at the Met, I feel different. Mr. Adès’s thorny, modernist music, played with crackling precision and color by the orchestra, bristled with manic, almost madcap, energy. Two tragic guests, in the face of unreality, seek solace together. Beatriz and Eduardo are engaged and utterly absorbed in themselves. But Mr. Adès enshrouds them in the opera’s most rapturous music, an extended duet with sighing vocal lines and quizzical orchestral sonorities... As an opera composer, Mr. Adès often has the orchestra hug every note and syllable of a vocal line. This stylistic trait could easily be overdone. But the chords and sonorities he comes up with at once buttress and shake up vocal lines, so the effect, in his hands, lends intriguing dramatic complexity. Over all, this riveting, breathless, score — full of quick-cutting shifts, pointillist bursts, and episodes of ballistic intensity — may be his best work. If you go to a single production this season, make it this one.’
The New York Times (Anthony Tommasini), 28 October 2017
‘Adès’ second premiere at the Met showed once again that he is undoubtedly one of the foremost composers of our time… Even with so strong a cast, the real stars are Adès and the brilliant score that he led from the pit… a masterpiece in every sense’
New York Classical Review (Eric C. Simpson), 27 October 2017
‘This is an opera that builds to a satisfying climax; it has cumulative power… his blend of Bergian underpinnings with diverse historical and popular idioms ultimately coheres, his orchestration is dazzling and the dystopian outbursts truly chilling.’
The Financial Times (John Rockwell), 31 October 2017
‘…a major cultural event in New York’s music world.’
The Huffington Post (Wilborn Hampton), 27 October 2017
‘Adès’s score adds a new layer of meaning: it demonstrates that music of exquisite craftsmanship can touch all that is most primal in us. I can’t think of another living composer who can conjure fear, contentment, bitterness, disgust, and joy with a few quick measures.’
NY Magazine (Justin Davidson), 27 October 2017