On 28 February Thomas Adès will conduct the French premiere of The Exterminating Angel at the Opéra national de Paris in a new production directed by Calixto Bieito. The 2016 opera, with a libretto by Tom Cairns in collaboration with the composer, adapts Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza’s 1962 surrealist masterpiece.
At the outset of its three acts a group of wealthy acquaintances gather for a lavish party at the home of Edmundo and Lucía Nóbile after an evening at the opera. As the night wears on, they find themselves – unlike the departed servants – mysteriously unable to leave. As the situation grows ever more desperate and food and water start to run out, the guests grow distressed and paranoid, their nightmarish confinement punctuated by several violent incidents. An apparent escape over the threshold at the end of the opera is remains charged with ambiguity.
Adès’ music begins as the audience enter the theatre, with distant bells tolling offstage. Highlights from the score include a terrifying march, accompanied by a battery of offstage drums; a cavatina from a guest frustrated about the lack of coffee-spoons; a lullaby sung to a dead lamb by Blanca; a distorted orchestral realisation of J.S. Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze; and a bravura guitar solo that accompanies a crawling, dismembered hand. The mysterious force that imprisons the guests is given eerie presence by an ondes Martenot in the orchestra. Adès’ music from the opera gave rise to The Exterminating Angel Symphony, a 20-minute orchestral rendering in four movements that premiered in 2021 with Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
The cast for the fifteen principal roles includes Jacquelyn Stucker and Nicky Spence as hosts Edmundo and Lucia, with Gloria Tronel in the spectacular coloratura role of opera singer Leticia. Christine Rice returns to the role of Blanca, which she has previously sung in Salzburg, London and New York; Hilary Summers sings Leonora with Claudia Boyle as Silvia. Amina Edris and Filipe Manu play couple Beatriz and Eduardo, with Anthony Roth Constanzo as Francisco de Ávila and Clive Bayley as the Doctor. Bieito’s production is designed by Anna-Sofia Kirsch.
After its debut at the Salzburg Festival in 2016, Tom Cairns’ world premiere production appeared subsequently at the London’s Royal Opera House, The Metropolitan Opera, and the Royal Danish Opera - conducted there by Robert Houssart. Houssart returns to the opera to conduct three of the seven performances. Adès appeared at the Palais Garnier in spring 2024 for the French premiere of The Dante Project, which he conducted alongside Courtney Lewis.
The opera is Adès’ third stage work, following his debut chamber opera Powder Her Face (1995) and The Tempest (2003). Robert Lepage’s acclaimed production of the latter will be staged at the Wiener Staatsoper in May 2024, conducted by the composer; a new staging of Powder Her Face from Nederlandse Reisopera, directed by Paul Carr and conducted by Otto Tausk, opened on 20 January 2024 and tours the Netherlands until 18 February.