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Thread: The Exterminating Angel at The Royal Opera House 24th of April

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  1. #1
    Senior Member Veteran Member Povero Buoso's Avatar
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    The Exterminating Angel at The Royal Opera House 24th of April

    Music Thomas Adès
    Libretto Tom Cairns after Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza
    Director Tom Cairns
    Set and costume designer Hildegard Bechtler
    Lighting designerJon Clark
    Video designer Tal Yarden
    Choreographer Amir Hosseinpour
    Performed by The Royal Opera

    Conductor Thomas Adès
    Leonora Anne Sofie von Otter
    Blanca Christine Rice
    Nobile Charles Workman
    Lucia Amanda Echalaz
    Raúl Frédéric Antoun
    Doctor John Tomlinson
    Roc Thomas Allen
    Francisco Iestyn Davies
    Eduardo Ed Lyon
    Leticia Audrey Luna
    Silvia Sally Matthews
    Beatriz Sophie Bevan
    Lucas Hubert Francis
    Enrique Thomas Atkins
    Señor Russell Sten Byriel
    Colonel David Adam Moore
    Julio Morgan Moody
    Pablo James Cleverton
    Meni Elizabeth Atherton
    Camila Anne Marie Gibbons
    Padre Sansón Wyn Pencarreg
    Yoli Jai Sai Mehta
    Chorus Royal Opera Chorus
    Ondes martenot Cynthia Millar
    Piano Finnegan Downie Dear
    Concert Maste rAnia Safonova
    Orchestra Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

    Warning extensive spoilers regarding the operas plot and music ahead!

    In the current age it is somewhat rare that as Opera Fans we have an opportunity to review even a national premiere of a new opera with it being rarer still to be by a composer who has already had some significant success in the form. Yet this strange situation was one I found myself in when I booked a rush ticket for the UK premiere of the Exterminating Angel at the royal opera house. In another first for me I went to the opera house completely blind on the composers previous work as well as the finer details of the plots story and music (then again I have always been adverse to doing my homework!). I quickly rectified on my arrival at the opera House the issue of story. A purchase of the evenings program quickly filled me in on the story of the Opera and its extensive cast of characters. A a work of cinema I had heard of The Exterminating Angel in passing before and I was intrigued as to how an opera can adapt a work of the screen rather than one of the stage. As this was also only my second contemporary opera I was also worried I would not enjoy it musically. Very fortunately it was the case that my fears proved to be unjustified regarding the piece musically and how well it would work theatrically.

    Due to the unique nature of reviewing a new opera as well as the unique aspect of casting in the exterminating angel (of all the operas I have seen it is the closest to a true ensemble piece) my usual system seems inadequate. What follows is an attempt to at least provide some normalcy to the review.

    Music: As a great lover of Written on Skin but having had a dislike of other instrumental modern works I was unsure on how I would feel about the music of The Exterminating Angel. I was surprised and pleased to find however that the music worked very well. Although not as melodic as Written on Skin there were still a lot of memorable bits of melody and some great effects used. I would hate to give musical highlights in any piece (as these are highly subjective) but some personal favourites of mine were the introduction(s) of the guests in act one, the interlude between acts one and two, the finale of act 2, the lovers duet of act 3 and finally Silvia's Act 3 aria. I must stress however that while I enjoyed these bits the most the score is littered with other parts that are extremely good and these are only my personal opinions. This score is a very good one and although it may not be immediately approachable by all it works very well combined with the libretto. A bordering on A+.

    Libretto: The libretto which the composer had a significant hand in was in short glorious. The libretto is riddled with black humor (my favourite kind of humor) and yet dramatic scenes also have poignancy. From the interview with both contained in the program this reflects how closely they looked back to the original movie but translating another persons idea to make an effective stage-work is always difficult so I give a lot of credit to both composer and librettist. A++

    Opera Overall as a work: Overall as a work therefore this is a very good opera! As an operatic black comedy and stage work it left me thoroughly engaged throughout with many clever uses of music and humor and an especially good use of the two combined. Theatrically therefore this is an excellent work and definitely a must see! In that regard A++ for those who like contemporary opera. However, as I was making my journey home on The Tube I came to the same conclusion I had about many Strauss works (particularly Electra and Salome) in that while this works excellently theatrically (and i do mean excellently) I question whether I would buy a recording and listen through to it as so much of the opera is bound up in the interaction physically of the performers and the situation they are in as represented on stage. In this respect I feel it would work significantly less well outside of the theater and hence I do not rank it up there among my favourite operas as I do Written on Skin which I have listened to many times and feel works excellently as a listening experience. I am also not wholly keen on the last 2 minutes and feel that the opera deserved a stronger ending. However overall the opera is an A+ opera (ie if the cast can hit the notes it is a must see when it is playing nearby {and probably even not so nearby} but I am not dying to have it as a recording) Definitely A+

    OK now that the review of the opera as a piece is out of the way my thoughts of the performance itself.

    Conducting and Orchestra: This is the fourth time I have heard the ROH orchestra playing and I do not think at any stage they have done badly it was yet again the same tonight. Adès seemed to be having the time of his life in the pit and rightly so as he composed the thing! (my view from the stalls meant I could see him quite clearly). Yet while he was clearly enjoying himself he was also conducting his own music with precision and delicacy. If the job of a conductor and orchestra is to set the right balance with the singers I think this was achieved. I personally could not fault it and nothing sounded wrong or mistimed nor did the orchestra overly dominate. Then again as I had never heard the piece I could not say for certain. A++

    Staging: My View from the stalls meant that some aspect of the stage could be slightly obscured. However 95% of my view was not and what I saw was a real treat production wise. With one tiny exception which was the laughable bear in the first act that appeared for what could not have been more than 30 seconds the rest of the staging however was close to perfect for me. What was happening in the libretto and the atmosphere that you felt should be created was represented p on stage as you would hope. This is the advantage of a close relationship between director and librettist which is especially easy when both roles are present in the same person. A+

    12 Main Roles: I could list each role individually as is usually what I tend to do in these reviews. However, this is a truly ensemble piece. If I were to separate the twelve out individually it would give primacy to some singers above the others. While it is true some singers have less to do (some characters pass away). For the vast majority of the opera 11 singers have a hell of a lot to do both singing and all 12 acting wise. At the premiere everyone did brilliantly in both singing and acting. It is difficult to name any who particularly impressed because they were all so good. It is rare to have a cast all seemingly at the top of their game. A++

    Comprimarios and Chorus. Very good with strong performances but neither the comprimarios or the Chorus has a huge amount to do in this opera. What they did do was done splendidly. A++

    Overall an excellent performance of a new opera. While not becoming one of my firm favourites this is definitely a must see if contemporary opera is in any way your thing and even if it is not the story and acting itself made it work superbly well and worth a trip regardless. A++
    "Non sono in vena" Rodolfo summing up P.B's feelings on his dissertation.

  2. #2
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Great! Thanks for this excellent review. I have already booked my travel to New York City to see the opera there in October and I can't wait. (Tickets not on sale yet but I don't expect trouble getting them since contemporary opera doesn't sell out as fast as the workhorses). This will likely be the high point of my operatic season.

    PS - As much as I love Adès, I'm glad that Written on Skin remains unrivaled...
    PS2 - I saw the movie decades ago and loved it.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  3. Likes Ann Lander (sospiro) liked this post
  4. #3
    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Excellent review PB!

    I will add my thoughts after I've seen it tonight.

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