Opera Profile: Adès’ Hit, ‘The Exterminating Angel’

By Gillian Reinhard
(Credit: Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera)

“The Exterminating Angel,” one of British composer Thomas Adès’ most popular operas, premiered on July 28, 2016, at the Salzburg Festival followed by premieres at the Royal Opera House and the Metropolitan Opera a year later. Known for its large ensemble cast and a particularly challenging soprano role, Adès’ third opera is based on the film of the same name by Luis Buñuel.

“The Exterminating Angel” was created by Buñuel to be a surrealist film, and Adès’ work also embraces allegorical storytelling.

In the years since its premiere, “The Exterminating Angel” has attracted critical acclaim for its sophisticated music and dark story, as told by librettist Tom Cairns. “The Exterminating Angel” also boasts the highest note allegedly ever sung on stage at the Met (an ‘A’ above High ‘C’) as pulled off by soprano Audrey Luna. Featuring 15 solo roles, the work has featured singers such as Anne Sofie von Otter, Alice Coote, Iestyn Davies, Thomas Allen, and Rod Gilfry.

Short Plot Summary

The opera is the story of an eclectic group of dinner party attendees who are psychologically trapped at their venue. In the 1960s, the Nobile couple host a dinner at their mansion in honor of Leticia Meynar, an opera singer. After the Nobiles return from the opera, the servants decide to leave the house. To entertain themselves, some dinner party guests flirt, while another plays piano. As the night drags on, the partygoers become tired but do not leave.

The group begins their day, still trapped in the dining room, while each guest reacts differently to their situation. Julio, the house’s butler, enters the dining room to bring coffee and finds himself trapped, as well. Meanwhile, the elderly Russell falls deathly ill. The guests panic once drinks run out and many accept they may die in the room. Russell passes away, still stuck in the dining room.

Finally, Julio is able to burst a water pipe so the guests can drink as the group descends further into madness. Meanwhile, an army outside has descended upon the mansion. Two more dinner guests are found dead by suicide and the group decides that Edmundo Nobile must be killed. Leticia decides that the group can escape their imprisonment and they are reunited with the growing crowd outside the mansion.

Learn More

Check out OperaWire’s review of the opera from the Met Opera premiere

Learn about how the opera and film differ in their storytelling perspectives

Watch and Listen

Here are a few excerpts from the opera.

First up is Blanca’s Aria.

Then we have Eduardo and Beatriz’s Duet.

Finally, here is the Intermezzo.


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