Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel” Arrives to the U.S.

Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel, based on the eponymous surrealist film by Luis Buñuel, will receive its long-awaited U.S. premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City on Thursday, October 26th.

The massive opera, which was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, the Covent Garden Royal Opera House, the Royal Danish Opera, and the 2016 Salzburg Festival, requires an enormous ensemble of 22 singers with chorus and an atypically large orchestra, including (in addition to a sizeable compliment of woodwinds, brass, percussion, and strings) offstage violins and percussion, a guitar, and an ondes Martenot.

The libretto was written by Tom Cairns, who has also served as director for every production of the opera yet staged. It tells the story of a group of aristocrats who, following a lavish dinner party, inexplicably find themselves unable to leave the dwelling. The mood gradually descends from panic to sorrow and from sorrow to violence as resources become scarce and fellow guests begin to die. The guests, having been reduced to their most animalistic impulses, are about to turn on their host when, through equally inexplicable means, they devise a way to free themselves.

The thunderous world premiere of The Exterminating Angel took place on July 28th, 2016, at the Haus für Mozart in Salzburg, Austria, where the composer himself conducted the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra and ensemble. Few composers would have the temerity to premiere a work of such scale in Mozart’s hometown, but Adès seems to have risen to the occasion, producing an opera that has been met with near-universal acclaim from music critics on both sides of the Atlantic.

Its U.K. premiere was held on April 24th earlier this year at the Royal Opera House in London to similar critical acclaim. It will later receive its Danish premiere at the Copenhagen Opera House on March 23rd, 2018.

Adès is again set to conduct for the U.S. premiere, which will be performed by the Met orchestra and a whopping résumé of soloists that includes Frédéric Antoun, Sophie Bevan, Kevin Burdette, Alice Coote, Iestyn Davies, Amanda Echalaz, Rod Gilfry, Christian van Horn, Joseph Kaiser, Audrey Luna, Sally Matthews, David Adam Moore, David Portillo, Christine Rice, and Sir John Tomlinson.

Adès and the Met’s general manager Peter Gelb will also hold a pre-premiere discussion about the work at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum on October 16th, where singers will perform highlights from the score. Tickets for this event have, unfortunately, already sold out.

The Exterminating Angel is sure to be one of the season’s biggest events for the Met, and for American opera at large. And, given the scope of the work, it seems unlikely that all but the most well-funded opera companies will have the resources required to stage it in the future. Grab tickets while they last.

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