Adès’s third opera, The Exterminating Angel premiered at the Salzburg Festival in July 2016. 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.