The Exterminating Angel


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It’s not that I’m anti-modern opera. It’s just that so much of it forces me to sacrifice the many musical pleasures that I normally receive from, shall I say, more traditional works. As to contemporary opera, one of my all-time favorite operas of any type is Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe,” whose second performance I saw at Stanford in 1957, and third performance at New York City Opera in 1958 (with Beverly Sills in the title role). A gorgeously melodic score with heart-breaking arias, and a believable libretto based on the real-life tragedy of Mrs. Horace (Baby Doe) Tabor.

But I digress. I was supposed to be reviewing Thomas Adés’s “The Exterminating Angel,” which last week had its U.S.premiere at the Met Opera. We saw it last night. The libretto is based on the Luis Buñuel movie about a group of elites who, for unknown reasons, cannot leave a dinner party, and then terrible things happen. Strangely, the movie was pretty good. And Stephen Sondheim is writing a new musical with a book by David Ives (“Venus in Fur”) also based on the very same angel, combined with Buñuel “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (also involving a dinner party).

So we have an unusual, but not uninteresting plot. A first-class set. Three real lambs. One bear (fake, but reasonably ursine). A huge cast: 24! (It was a big dinner party.) Very competent singing of a really difficult score. Reviewer Zachary Woolfe in the Times, a big admirer of the opera, nonetheless refers to it as “caustic.” Call me old-fashioned, but rarely do I suggest to Donna,”Why don’t we go out this evening and take in a caustic opera?”

Speaking of the singing, soprano Audrey Luna is a phenom. Her frequent high notes — high, high notes — staved off any thoughts of my nodding off. There is no available recording I could find of this score, but the second video below has a sample of Luna’s upper-register talent in an excerpt from Adés’s “Tempest.”

Ben Rosen




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