The Metropolitan Opera – Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel

Thomas Adès
The Exterminating Angel – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by Tom Cairns in collaboration with the composer, after the screenplay by Louis Buñuel & Luis Alcoriza for the film El angel exterminador [Met co-commission: US premiere performances; sung in English, with English Met Titles by Michael Panayos]

The Hosts
Edmundo de Nobile – Joseph Kaiser
Lucía de Nobile – Amanda Echalaz

Their Guests
Leticia Maynar – Audrey Luna
Leonora Palma – Alice Coote
Silvia de Ávila – Sally Matthews
Francisco de Ávila – Iestyn Davies
Blanca Delgado – Christine Rice
Alberto Roc – Rod Gilfry
Beatriz – Sophie Bevan
Eduardo – David Portillo
Raúl Yebenes – Frédéric Antoun
Colonel Álvaro Gómez – David Adam Moore
Señor Russell – Kevin Burdette
Doctor Carlos Conde – Sir John Tomlinson

The Staff
Julio, the Butler – Christian Van Horn
Lucas, the Footman – John Irvin
Enrique, the Waiter – Ian Koziara
Pablo, the Cook – Paul Corona
Meni, a Maid – Mary Dunleavy
Camila, a Maid – Catherine Cook
Servants – Andrea Coleman & Marc Persing

Outside the House
Padre Sansón – Jeff Mattsey
Yoli, Silvia’s Son – Lucas Mann

Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera [Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot), Dimitri Dover (piano), Michael Kudirka (guitar)]
Thomas Adès

Tom Cairns – Production
Hildegard Bechtler – Set & Costumes
Jon Clark – Lighting
Tal Yarden – Projection
Amir Hosseinpour – Choreographer

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 30 October, 2017
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York City

A scene from Act I of Adès's The Exterminating AngelPhotograph: Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan OperaThomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel is one of the most exciting new operas to come to the Met in recent years. This was the second in an eight-performance run (with a cinema relay on Saturday the Eighteenth). Much of the impressive cast took part in the Salzburg Festival world-premiere and also in the first UK run at The Royal Opera. There were noteworthy contributions from Joseph Kaiser and Amanda Echalaz as the hosts of the ill-fated dinner party, Sophie Bevan and David Portillo as suicidal lovers, Sally Matthews and Iestyn Davies as high-strung siblings, and, above all, John Tomlinson as the doctor who labors to maintain calm as events spin increasingly out of control.

Adès’s score incorporates a wide range of styles, including discordant dialogue, a waltz-like aria, a tender love-death duet, and a quasi-Baroque piano solo, with flamenco and martial-drumming also in the mix. Each character is given a distinct musical expression and the way in which they combine is ever-changing. Adès uses an ondes Martenot to highlight points in the drama where characters try to leave the room or contribute through dialogue as to their inability to do so. The writing for Leticia, the opera-diva honoree of the dinner, brilliantly performed by Audrey Luna, is generally satiric, her extremely grating coloratura raising the question of why the assembled guests would have paid to hear her sing earlier that evening. In the final Act, however, she sings without any jarring a twelfth-century Ladino paean to Jerusalem.

Sally Matthews as Silvia de Ávila, Iestyn Davies as Francisco de Ávila, Sophie Bevan as Beatriz, David Portillo as Eduardo, Joseph Kaiser as Edmundo de Nobile, Audrey Luna as Leticia Maynar, Amanda Echalaz as Lucia de Nobile, Frédéric Antoun as Raúl Yebenes, and Sir John Tomlinson as Dr. Carlos Conde in Adès's The Exterminating AngelPhotograph: Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan OperaHildegard Bechtler’s set and costumes ably sustain interest as we watch people trapped in the room. The huge proscenium-like arch serves to delimit the space in which they are confined, often moving slowly as the storyline continues, thereby altering the vantage point from which we view the action. Clever effects accompany the solutions to their need for water and food, and Tal Yarden’s projections heighten the psychological deterioration of the distraught captives.

I came away fascinated if somewhat bewildered; there is often too much happening simultaneously – both musically and dramatically – to be fully absorbed in a single sitting. Both Luis Buñuel’s film, to which Adès is for the most part faithful, and the opera’s several deviations from it raise questions to which there is no obvious answer. What lessons should we take away from the alienation and amorality of the elite class? How are we to understand the plot-device by which the survivors are finally able to leave? Does the final scene (which differs from the movie) cast further doubt on the very notion of free will, and suggest, along with all of us, that they remain trapped in a space from which there is no escape?

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