BBC Music Magazine - - Reviews -

The Ex­ter­mi­nat­ing An­gel (DVD) Au­drey Luna, Amanda Echa­laz,

Sally Matthews, So­phie Be­van, Alice Coote, Chris­tine Rice, Iestyn Davies, Joseph Kaiser, Frédéric An­toun, David Por­tillo, Rod Gil­fry, John Tom­lin­son; Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera Cho­rus & Or­ches­tra/thomas Adès; dir. Gary Halvor­son (New York, 2017) Erato DVD: 9029552550;

Blu-ray: 9029552549 128 mins

It’s only a short cul­tural step from Dr John­son’s ‘ir­ra­tional and ex­otic en­ter­tain­ment’ to Sur­re­al­ism. Thomas Adès like other com­posers, no­tably Martin , knows that dreams and night­mares seep­ing out of the un­con­scious are the very stuff of mu­sic drama. So

The Ex­ter­mi­nat­ing An­gel, based upon Luis Buñuel’s film in which a party of bour­geois guests find them­selves un­able to leave a din­ner party and de­scend into bar­barism and mad­ness, be­comes a pro­foundly un­set­tling opera. And in this record­ing of the pro­duc­tion from the Met in New York you be­gin to wonder whether the guests are on stage or in the au­di­ence.

Adès, who co-wrote the li­bretto with his di­rec­tor Tom Cairns, is at one with the Span­ish-born film­maker: his im­pris­oned guests are rot­ten to the core, their priv­i­leged lives ut­terly self­ish, mask­ing dark de­sires and shady am­bi­tions. And Buñuel’s an­ti­cler­i­cal­ism is here too – sheep with­out a ‘Shep­herd’ that will end up bar­be­cued af­ter the in­ter­val. But Adès has his own last word – is it per­haps the power of song, sung by his prima donna Leti­cia (Au­drey Luna) who frees the guests?

Some­times the vast stage of the Met dwarfs Cairns’s pro­duc­tion, first seen at Salzburg. The Ex­ter­mi­nat­ing An­gel is in many re­spects a large cham­ber opera, de­spite a cast of 15 prin­ci­pals and a large or­ches­tra, re­plete with on­des martenot and tolling bells, that is com­pletely at home in a score that forges its dis­tinc­tive iden­tity from the Baroque to Berg’s Vi­enna. Then there are times, par­tic­u­larly in

Act III, when the show lit­er­ally ‘fades to black’ mak­ing it a chal­lenge to see the ac­tion. But a mag­nif­i­cent cast

that in­cludes Alice Coote as a crazed dowa­ger, So­phie Be­van and David Por­tillo as a pair of des­per­ate lovers who take their own lives, Joseph Kaiser as Ed­mundo their host and John Tom­lin­son the sen­si­ble doc­tor, re­mind us that it is not the sleep of rea­son that brings forth mon­sters. Un­der the skin we are all beasts. Christo­pher Cook



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