It is too early to tell how 'The Exterminating Angel' will fare when ranking the Season 12 productions of the ever fascinating if uneven 'Metropolitan Opera HD Live' series, with it being so early on in the season.
'The Exterminating Angel', with music by Thomas Ades and a libretto from Tom Cairns adapted from Luis Bunuel's 1962 film, is my least favourite of the productions seen so far, mainly because of more familiarity and personal preference for 'Norma' and 'Die Zauberflote'. It is on the other hand also the most interesting, most ambitious and boldest of the three and will undoubtedly be true for the rest of the season, being the only contemporary opera and the only one to receive a premiere at the Met (being a relatively new opera as well). It has been very much polarising opera goers and critics and will continue to do so. Some people will find it absorbing and fascinating, others will find it too weird and incoherent.
Can totally see both viewpoints, being somewhere in the middle myself. This is one of those clever and interesting operas that is more an "appreciate it" one than a "love it" one. Familiarity with Bunuel's film, to make complete sense of the story (though the story in the film is actually one of those open to interpretation ones), and Ades's previous works and style, to at least appreciate the music, are definitely a good idea. Am lucky in both, haven't seen the film for a long time but a re-watch is due and Ades's music is not always to my taste but it is certainly different in an intriguing way. 'The Exterminating Angel' does not contain the most dynamic or subtle of scoring, and it lacks variety. Dramatically some characters and scenes are more interesting than others. However the opera is highly atmospheric, with disturbing surrealism and dark and suitably bleak satirical elements (if leaning a little too much on the darker aspects and not quite enough on the comic ones, and the orchestration is both clever, searingly wild and challenging. Ades knows how to write for voices but he is certainly not kind to them with the score containing the single highest note of any opera for Audrey Luna's role for example.
Whatever my reservations and difficult to rate stance on the opera is, it is very difficult to fault the production itself. There is much to admire and a lot of it is truly excellent. Visually, it matches the atmosphere of the story perfectly being both haunting and beautiful. The staging is both simple and bold, capturing the surrealist, bleakness and satirical aspects likewise. The final scene really packs a punch and there is great chemistry between the huge cast. The emotional undercurrents are explored fully and compellingly and the horror of the situation is suitably ominous.
Musically, there is nothing to fault. The orchestral playing is superb throughout, lyrical at times yet very powerful in others. At the podium is Ades himself, and with his highly involved and committed conducting you can tell he knows what he wants. The colours, ranges and dynamics he brings out is truly extraordinary, making the music more engaging than it is. This can also be seen in the Met production of 'The Tempest'.
'The Exterminating Angel's' cast is a huge one, and a dream cast somewhat. They are all more than up to the task, with a real notion of the music making sense to them when in reality perfect pitchers, quick music learners and those with wide vocal ranges will find the learning one of the most challenging experiences of their lives. Standouts of the uniformly brilliant cast are suave Joseph Kaiser, bright-voiced Amanda Schulz, alluring Sally Matthews, thunderous John Tomlinson and one cannot find a more peerless Ades interpreter than Audrey Luna (handling her stratospheric role like it comes easy to her).
Overall, have a lot of admiration for the very well-crafted production but have conflicting views on the opera itself. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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