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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    The Exterminating Angel at the Met

    The Exterminating Angel, opera in three acts
    Music by Thomas Adès
    Libretto by Tom Cairns in collaboration with the composer, based on the screenplay for the movie of the same name (in original Spanish, El Angél Exterminador, by Luis Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza, 1962)
    Premiered at the 2016 Salzburg Festival - in a co-production of the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House Covent Garden, Royal Danish Theatre, and Salzburg Festival

    This review is of the United States premiere, attended in person by Opera Lively on October 26, 2017

    The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, conducted by Thomas Adès
    The Metropolitan Opera Chorus, chorus master Donald Palumbo
    Production Tom Cairns
    Set and Costume Designer Hildegard Bechtler
    Lighting Designer Jon Clark
    Projection Designer Tal Yarden
    Choreographer Amir Hosseinpour

    Additional instrumentalists

    Ondes Martenot (an electronic instrument) - Cynthia Millar
    Piano - Dimitri Dover
    Acoustic Guitar - Michael Kudirka

    Cast

    The Hosts

    Edmundo de Nobile - Joseph Kaiser
    Lucía de Nobile, his wife - Opera Lively interviewee Amanda Echalaz

    The Guests

    Leticia Maynar, an opera singer - Audrey Luna
    Leonora Palma - Alice Coote
    Silvia de Ávila, a young widowed mother - Sally Matthews
    Francisco de Ávila, her brother - Iestyn Davies
    Blanca Delgado, a pianist - Christine Rice
    Alberto Roc, her husband, a conductor - Rod Gilfry
    Beatriz - Sophie Bevan
    Eduardo, her fiancé - David Portillo
    Raúl Yebenes, an explorer - Frédéric Antoun
    Colonel Álvaro Gómez - David Adam Moore
    Señor Russell, and elderly man - Devin Burdette
    Doctor Carlos Conde - Sir John Tomlinson

    The Staff

    Julio, the butler - Christian Van Horn
    Lucas, the footman - John Irvin
    Enrique, the waiter - Ian Koziara
    Pablo, the cook - Paul Corona
    Meni, a maid - Mary Dunleavy
    Camila, a maid - Catherine Cook who was sick today; Edita Kulczag sang in her stead
    Servants - Andrea Coleman and Marc Persing

    Outside the house

    Padre Sansón - Jeff Mattsey
    Yoli, Silvia's son - Lucas Mann

    ---------------

    As a huge fan of contemporary opera, it was with trepidation that I expected this American première of the third opera of one of my favorite composers, Thomas Adès. I booked my usual October/November trip to New York City to coincide with the première. I also attended a very nice performance of Les Contes d'Hoffmann, reviewed two days ago, but The Exterminating Angel was the main fare and the motive for the trip.

    I was not disappointed. As a matter of fact, the show went above and beyond my expectation, and from now on this work will belong to the honor roll of my top three most beloved contemporary operas, together with Written on Skin and Luci Mie Traditrici. It is this good!

    To enhance the pleasure, the production was outstanding. This is one of those rare shows where everything is perfect. The set is very ingenious and works perfectly to depict the claustrophobic room where the characters are trapped, as well as the world outside which is rendered by projections and by a large revolving portal that functions as the frontier and barrier between the two sectors, inside and outside the house. Some of the special effects were simply mind-blogging, like the moment when the two lovers who commit suicide, Beatriz and Eduardo, are seen naked inside a glass enclosure that travels around the set to show to the public the interior of the closet where they go to die. It was eerie, mesmerizing, and simply beautiful, especially considering that the duet that they sing is one of the most spectacular musical numbers of the opera. Some other scenes were as scary, unsettling, and macabre as those from a good horror movie (like the moving severed hand). The apparitions of the bear were also uncanny and impressive, with the use of shadows and projections (in addition to a man in a very realistic bear costume). Lighting was a thing of beauty with various effects that enhanced the feeling of oddness that is the right tone for this story that belongs to the Surrealism movement. Blocking was also of the highest caliber, with the huge number of characters occupying the stage in perfect harmony. All elements of this production deserve the maximum score of A++.

    The Met Orchestra conducted by the composer, oh my God! I've heard specialized contemporary ensembles, but this extraordinarily flexible and competent orchestra did not leave anything to be desired when compared to those that mostly do only this kind of music. Having the live composer directing the orchestra is of course thrilling. From my vantage point I could see Mr. Adès very well, and he got lots of energy, making for very exciting sounds from the pit. Orchestra and conductor easily score A++ as well.

    The score is sublime. My friends, this is as good as it gets in terms of modern and contemporary music. The opera lasts for one hour and 55 minutes (plus a 25' intermission), and time flies. At the end, we regret that it is over. The orchestral music for The Exterminating Angel is extraordinary. The colors, richness, and variety confirm the mastery of the genre achieved by Thomas Adès. The use of the electronic instrument Ondes Martenot is clever, signaling (according to statements by the composer) the moments when the invisible angel of the title is supposed to be making its presence felt. Piano and acoustic guitar make beautiful and lyrical appearances here and there for some poignant and melodious moments that punctuate the high tension with wild percussions that illustrate so well the stressful situation the characters go through. Between acts I and II there is an instrumental intermezzo that gets the whole orchestra playing from piano to fortissimo in a crescendo that is one of the emotionally strongest moments I've heard not only in contemporary opera, but in all of opera. Whew! Vocal writing is not behind. It is equally accomplished. There are lots of singing roles of all types including a countertenor, and the most interesting point is the use of operatic conventions in the singing of the character who is an opera singer (Leticia), in sharp contrast with the frantic, yelling, hysterical role of Lucía de Nobile.

    So, what about the singing? Wow, this is a luxury cast. I had heard most of these principal singers (those not in comprimario roles) in other productions, and we are in the presence of a very exquisite group. It is hard to individualize the comments, because the whole thing was a tour-de-force that was executed to perfection. I was glad to be again seeing live a singer I'm so fond of, Amanda Echalaz, who granted us a gorgeous interview in Santa Fe. Amanda's shouty role is extremely difficult, and she nailed it! Iestyn Davies is one of the best countertenors in his generation. Audrey Luna was phenomenal, and Alice Coote was another singer who dazzled. The love duet between David Portillo and Sophie Bevan was a thing of beauty. Sir John Tomlinson of course was a great Doctor Conde. Kevin Burdette's role was short because his character dies early, but I like this singer very much, from shows I attended in Santa Fe and Philadelphia. Joseph Kaiser was maybe a bit less notable but he did have good acting skills. Christian van Horn was strong in the important role of Julio. The comprimarios all did a good job. This ensemble of singers was well-oiled and accomplished, which is not easy to put together given the numerous singing roles and the challenges of contemporary music. A++ overall, no doubt!

    In time - am I being so complimentary because I love contemporary opera? No, I just reviewed a recent one, Cold Mountain, and wasn't as impressed. My enthusiasm results exclusively from the high quality of this work. By the way, I didn't address the theatricality of it yet, and the libretto. While Cairns and Adès did shrink the lines to fit the opera time given that singing takes longer than saying the words in the movie, the libretto is still very faithful to the screenplay, and I love this movie.

    Before the opera, I was thinking; taking as subject this masterpiece of Surrealism is a tall order. Luis Buñuel famously said that his movie was not supposed to be interpreted with any symbolism (although people still tried, making some rather interesting analogies between the plot and the oppression of the Franco regime). It is like a dream. The action and the situation are fairly nonsensical. So, this series of relatively inexplicable events with a good dose of bizarre and odd fantasies involving literally dozens of characters, seemed like something very difficult to depict by the operatic medium. Well, guess what? Adès and Cairns did it. Regardless of the surrealistic elements, this story still depicts human emotions in a situation that is quite extreme, with life-threatening hunger and thirst, confinement, claustrophobia, and all hell breaks lose with interpersonal conflicts, assault (physical and sexual), suicide, love and hate, and so forth. Hm... do you recognize these themes, dear readers? Yep, it's the stuff of opera, right? And it works! Not only the whole thing is very theatrical and well-paced, but the music matches perfectly the various situations. I'd say that the musical and theatrical score for this piece is A++ as well. It's tops.

    So, what exactly is not A++ about The Exterminating Angel? Nothing. Every element gets this maximum score, and of course it results in the overall rating being the same. We are in the presence of a masterpiece. I know that the term is overused, but in this case, there is no other way to call this piece. Bravo, Mr. Adès. Bravo, Mr. Cairns. And bravi, this talented group of outstanding singers, this crew that put together an extraordinary physical production, and this fabulous orchestra.

    On November 18, The Exterminating Angel will be shown worldwide on Met Live in HD, right? Don't miss it, my friends. Well, I know that some of you balk at contemporary opera - but believe me, this is a strong instrumental and vocal score, and if you just love cinema or spoken theater, the theatricality of the piece will please you anyway, even if you are not crazy (like I am) about the music. This is highly recommended; a must see. I hope it comes out on blue-ray disc too.

    Next, production pictures, kindly authorized by the Met Press Department.
    Last edited by Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva); October 28th, 2017 at 12:41 AM.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Production pictures, credits Metropolitan Opera / Ken Howard, used with authorization of the Met Press Department for promotional use.











    Attached Images Attached Images            
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Production pictures, continued, same credits:









    Attached Images Attached Images          
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Senior Member Involved Member Nemorino's Avatar
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    I'm so excited for this. Love the film, love this composer. Glad to hear it's great!

    For anyone reading about this here, the Met Live in HD is in theatres on 11/18.

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    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    I saw it live at ROH and I concur with what Luiz says. Different orchestra/acoustic of course but sublime all the same.

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    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Some personal pictures of curtain calls, and before the opera started (with an empty Met - I was given access before the crowd; it did look sold-out after everybody got in):







    Attached Images Attached Images        
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    I also love the film; glad the opera and production lived up to it so well. A DVD/Blu-ray would be great!

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    Heard it on radio a while ago. Thrilling music.

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    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Great review in the New York Times

    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/a...tan-opera.html

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Amfortas's Avatar
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    I guess there's always a dissenting view.

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    Senior Member Involved Member Nemorino's Avatar
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    Saw the HD this weekend. Boy, do I wish I could have afforded to come see this in person. This is one where the limitations of Live in HD were really apparent. Inherently inadequate to fully conveying the experience. The unnerving atmosphere was more than just a stage picture, but a haunting of the entire hall. The Met’s chandeliers played their part, but so did the acoustic. From the drum battery deep backstage, to a pattern on the bells which rang out persistantly pre-performance.

    I loved it. When it started, I thought there was no way I would be able to keep these characters apart, but incredibly they all felt fleshed out within 20-30 minutes and then had the screws turned on them for the rest of the evening. And the orchestral interludes! So good.

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    Senior Member Veteran Member Povero Buoso's Avatar
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    I am glad that everyone so far seems to have enjoyed this Opera. It is nice to know that my first impressions in London were not just wishful thinking on my part and that it is an opera others here have enjoyed as much as I.
    "Non sono in vena" Rodolfo summing up P.B's feelings on his dissertation.

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    I am going to have to wait until March to see it, that's when it makes its way to our cinemas.
    Natalie

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