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Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel was first seen at the Salzburg Festival, then Covent Garden, before the production travelled to the Met in 2017 with some cast changes in the leading roles. It is based on Buñuel’s 1962 surrealist film. Adès and his librettist, Tom Cairns, collaborated to reduce the cast to manageable proportions, a mere 15 principal roles, playing a group of effete and over-privileged people who gather for a post-opera party and find themselves trapped in a room, unable to leave, for what is an unexplained and presumably psychological reason. The staff, inexplicably spooked, are already fleeing as the opera starts.

Adès’ music is challenging, arresting and texturally complex, and strongly conveys the mental meltdown that the characters experience as their sophisticated veneer is stripped and they descend into suicide, sacrifice and incest. He uses unusual instruments in his search for startling effect, such as the spooky ondes martenot and scratchy miniature 1/32 violins. The vocal lines range from the very top – Audrey Luna singing the highest note ever heard on the Met stage, an A above top C – to John Tomlinson’s lowest growl. The beauty of watching it on film is that the camera can home in on Tom Cairn’s elegant production for the viewer, catching individual moments and increasing the sense of claustrophobia in what is an enormous space. So we live, and in some cases die, with the cast. Everyone is on top form, the performers incredibly involved, and the tension builds unbearably. It is an uncompromising and challenging opera to watch, but powerful and thrilling. What happens? I couldn’t possibly spoil it for you. You’ll have to watch to find out.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica


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