The Exterminating Angel (opera)

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The Exterminating Angel
Opera by Thomas Adès
LibrettistTom Cairns
Based onThe Exterminating Angel
by Luis Buñuel

The Exterminating Angel is an English-language opera in three acts, with music by Thomas Adès, and libretto by Tom Cairns in collaboration with Adès.[1] The opera is based on the 1962 film of the same name by Luis Buñuel.[2][3][1] The opera, Adès' third, was a joint commission between the Salzburg Festival, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Danish Opera.[4]

The opera received its world premiere on 28 July 2016, at the Haus für Mozart, Salzburg.[5][6][7][8] Adès' first-ever commission for the Salzburg Festival,[9] the Salzburg production received four performances.[10] The UK premiere was at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, on 24 April 2017.[11] The North American premiere took place on 26 October 2017 at the Metropolitan Opera.[12][13][14] For all of these stagings, Cairns was the stage director, with sets and costumes by Hildegard Bechtler, lighting by Jon Clark, videography by Tal Yarden,[15] and choreography by Amir Hosseinpour.

Adès had been interested in adapting the film into an opera since 2000. Copyright issues over the film and the commission for Adès' second opera, The Tempest, delayed his eventual start on this opera.[16]

The role of Leticia required soprano Audrey Luna to sing an A above high C, which is the highest documented sung note in the history of the Metropolitan Opera.[17] The Metropolitan Opera transmitted the 18 November 2017 performance of the opera to cinemas worldwide as part of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD series; that performance has subsequently been issued on DVD and was streamed online on 5 June, 15 November, and 10 December 2020.[18][19]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 28 July 2016
Haus für Mozart, Salzburg
UK premiere cast, 24 April 2017
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
North America premiere cast, 26 October 2017
Metropolitan Opera, New York City
Danish premiere cast, 23 March 2018

Royal Danish Opera, Copenhagen

Edmundo de Nobile tenor Charles Workman Joseph Kaiser Gert-Henning Jensen
Lucia de Nobile soprano Amanda Echalaz Gisela Stille
Leticia Meynar soprano Audrey Luna Kerstin Avemo
Leonora Palma mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter Alice Coote Randi Stene
Silvia de Avíla soprano Sally Matthews Sine Bundgaard
Francisco de Avíla countertenor Iestyn Davies Morten Grove Frandsen
Blanca Delgado mezzo-soprano Christine Rice Hanne Fischer
Alberto Roc baritone Thomas Allen Rod Gilfry David Kempster
Beatriz soprano Sophie Bevan Sofie Elkjær Jensen
Eduardo tenor Ed Lyon David Portillo Alexander Sprague
Raúl Yebenes tenor Frédéric Antoun Paul Curievici
Colonel Álvaro Gómez tenor David Adam Moore Jens Søndergaard
Señor Russell baritone Sten Byriel Kevin Burdette Simon Wilding
Doctor Carlos Conde bass-baritone John Tomlinson Sten Byriel
Julio, the butler baritone Morgan Moody Christian van Horn Simon Duus
Lucas, the footman tenor John Irvin Hubert Francis John Irvin Magnus Gislason
Enrique, the waiter tenor Franz Gürtelschmied Thomas Atkins Ian Koziara Jens Christian Tvilum
Pablo, the cook baritone Rafael Fingerlos James Cleverton Paul Corona Magnus Ingemund Kjeldstad
Meni, a maid soprano Frances Pappas Elizabeth Atherton Mary Dunleavy Sara Madeleine Swietlicki
Camila, a maid mezzo-soprano Anna Maria Dur Anne Marie Gibbons Edyta Kulczak/Catherine Cook Elisabeth Halling
Servants Andrea Coleman, Marc Persing
Padre Sansón baritone Cheyne Davidson Wyn Pencarreg Jeff Mattsey Kyungil Ko
Yoli child role Leonhard Radhauer Jai Sai Mehta Lucas Mann Arthur Zacharias Ulf Greve
Ondes Martenot Cynthia Millar
Piano Finnegan Downie Dear Dimitri Dover
Orchestra ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Metropolitan Opera Orchestra
Chorus Salzburger Bachchor
(Salzburg Bach Choir)
Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Conductor Thomas Adès


The setting is the mansion of Lucía and Edmundo de Nobile, on the Calle de la Providencia in an unnamed city, in the 1960s.

Act 1

The Nobiles are expecting guests for a dinner at their mansion in honour of the opera singer Leticia Meynar. However, the footman Lucas runs away, and the butler Julio does not stop him. The maids Meni and Camila also try to leave. The Nobiles arrive after attending a performance at the opera. When the guests go into the dining room, Meni, Camila, and several other servants make their escape. The guests repeat their entrance, which momentarily disconcerts Edmundo de Nobile.

At dinner, Nobile toasts Leticia. As Lucía announces the first course, the waiter spills it on the floor. Lucía decides to postpone her other 'entertainments', and a performing bear and several lambs are removed to the garden. The rest of the servants, except for Julio, flee the house, despite Lucía's protestations.

In the drawing room, Blanca performs at the piano. The engaged couple Eduardo and Beatriz dance. Leonora flirts with Dr. Conde, who declines to dance with her. She kisses him instead. Conde then confides to the explorer Raúl Yebenes that Leonora is gravely ill and does not have long to live. The guests praise Blanca's performance, and then encourage Leticia to sing. Señor Russell protests that she has performed enough for the evening. Several guests proclaim that they will not leave the room until Leticia has sung for them.

Several guests prepare to depart, whilst Roc falls asleep. In the cloakroom, Lucía gives her secret lover, Colonel Álvaro Gómez, a fleeting kiss. The guests become lethargic and distracted. Although it is now very late, none of them attempts to leave. Though confused, Edmundo graciously offers lodging to those who wish to stay. Russell and Colonel Gómez are horrified as some guests remove their tailcoats, but eventually they too lie down to sleep. Eduardo and Beatriz retreat to a private corner to spend their first night together.

Act 2

The guests wake the following morning. Silvia says that she slept poorly. Conde examines Russell, and diagnoses him as terminally ill. Julio is supposed to prepare breakfast, but reports that no supplies have arrived at the mansion. When Lucía tries to take some of the ladies to her bedroom to freshen up, they cannot leave the dining room. Blanca frets about her children, but even she and her husband Alberto Roc, a conductor, cannot leave. Silvia finds this situation humorous, with the knowledge that her son Yoli is safe with his private tutor, Padre Sansón. Julio approaches with coffee and the leftovers from the previous evening's dinner. Leticia entreats Julio not to enter the drawing room, but in vain. Blanca is desperate, while Raúl sees no reason to get overly excited. Francisco complains that he cannot possibly stir his coffee with a teaspoon. When sent to procure coffee spoons, Julio now finds himself trapped in the drawing room.

Evening approaches. Russell's condition has worsened, as he has fallen into a coma and needs urgent medical care. When they have nothing left to drink, the guests begin to panic. Conde pleads for calm, although even he seems to be losing his composure. Raúl becomes aggressive and blames Edmundo for the situation. Francisco is frantic and resists all attempts to calm him. Russell unexpectedly regains consciousness, expressing relief that he will not live to experience the 'extermination'. The thought of dying amongst all these people, rather than alone with Eduardo, troubles Beatriz.

During the night, Russell dies. Conde and Colonel Gómez haul his corpse into the closet, as Eduardo and Beatriz watch secretly.

Act 3

Police guarding the mansion drive back a crowd of people gathered outside. Although some people break through the police ranks, no one can enter the house.

In the drawing room, Julio and Raúl burst a water pipe. The guests rush desperately to quench their thirst. Tormented with hunger, everyone begins to behave with increased irrationality. Blanca combs only one side of her hair, driving Francisco to distraction. Unable to find the pills for his stomach ulcer, Francisco thinks that someone has hidden them. Raúl goads Francisco about his relationship with his sister, and the two men exchange insults. Edmundo tries with difficulty to keep the peace. Leonora, in great pain, entreats the assistance of Dr Conde and the Virgin Mary. Blanca's smell nauseates Francisco, and he again loses his nerves.

Whilst delirious, Leonora sees a disembodied hand wandering around the drawing room. Trying to stop it, she stabs Blanca's hand with a dagger. In the closet, Eduardo and Beatriz decide to kill themselves. Roc assaults Leticia, but Raúl accuses Colonel Gómez instead. Edmundo is injured during the ensuing scuffle. The lambs wander from the garden into the drawing room.

The army has quarantined the mansion. Padre Sansón appears with Yoli, and the crowd demands that Yoli be sent inside. Encouraged by the crowd, Yoli tries to enter the mansion, but is unable to.

The guests have slaughtered the lambs and are cooking them on a makeshift fire. Leonora recalls a premonition from the night of the opera performance, and attempts a magic ritual with Blanca and Leticia. The ritual fails, but she declares that innocent blood is needed. Francisco discovers Eduardo and Beatriz's bodies in the closet. In a fresh quarrel, Raúl tosses Francisco's box of pills out of the drawing room. Silvia cradles the corpse of one of the lambs in her arms, thinking that she is rocking Yoli to sleep.

The bear appears across the threshold. Gradually the idea spreads among the guests that a sacrifice is required to secure their liberation, specifically the death of Edmundo. Conde and Colonel Gómez unsuccessfully try to dissuade this idea. Edmundo declares that he will sacrifice himself, but Leticia interrupts him. She realises that, at this moment, each of them is in exactly the same place as at the start of their strange captivity. With her encouragement, the others hesitantly repeat their actions from that first night, but one character acts differently at one key point. This change allows the characters to approach the threshold and finally to cross it. The guests and the crowd outside the mansion meet.


Pit Musicians

  • 3 flutes (2nd doubles on piccolo I and bass flute; 3rd doubles on piccolo II and alto flute)
  • 3 oboes (3rd doubles on cor anglais)
  • 3 clarinets in A (3rd doubles on bass clarinet)
  • 3 bassoons (3rd doubles on contraforte or contrabassoon with low A)
  • 4 horns in F (optionally doubling Wagner tubas);
  • 3 trumpets in B♭
  • 3 trombones
  • tuba
  • percussion (4 players): timpani & roto-toms, glockenspiel, xylophone, tubular bells, 6 antique cymbals, small steel drum, 4 saucepans, 4 tunes gongs, 2 bell plates, bass bell (in B♭), newspaper, small mark tree, metal wind chimes, 2 pairs of castanets, machine-mounted castanets, small & large maracas, metal maracas, double guiro, cabasa, 3 small whips, door slam, small anvil, 2 small woodblocks, small ratchet, tambourine, 2 small bongos, deep log drum, tavola, washboard, lion's roar, 2 large stones, 2 spring coils, triangle, small cowbell, 2 pairs of clashed cymbals, 2 suspended cymbals, hi-hat, 2 sizzle cymbals, 2 tam-tams, 2 side drums, tenor drum, kick bass drum, bass drum with mounted cymbal
  • piano
  • harp
  • guitar
  • ondes Martenot
  • strings (including 1/32 size violins)

Offstage Musicians

  • percussion: 4 players playing 8 church bells or bass handbells, plus (minimum) 4 players playing mixture of bass, tenor and side drums. Parts can be double or played by the same four players as the church bells (optionally)


The Exterminating Angel Symphony, composed in 2020, is a four movement orchestral rendering of music from the opera. Its first performance took place on 4 August 2021 at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, given by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.[20] A repeat performance took place at the BBC Proms in London on 5 August 2021.[21]


  1. ^ a b Jonathan Romney (1 April 2017). "How Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel became opera's most surreal soirée". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  2. ^ Goldmann, A.J. (August 2016). "The Exterminating Angel: Salzburg - Salzburg Festival, 8/8/16". Opera News. 81 (2). Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  3. ^ Alex Ross (22 August 2016). "An Explosive Opera of The Exterminating Angel". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on 29 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  4. ^ Christian Wildhagen (30 July 2016). "Dünn ist der Firnis der Zivilisation". Neue Zürcher Zeitung (in German). Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  5. ^ Ulrich Amling (29 July 2016). "Schrei zum Himmel". Der Tagesspiegel (in German). Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  6. ^ Werner Theurich (29 July 2016). "Der Würgeengel macht Salzburg selig". Der Spiegel (in German). Archived from the original on 3 November 2016. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  7. ^ Mirko Weber (29 July 2016). "Surrealismus? Ah, geh!". Stuttgarter Zeitung (in German). Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  8. ^ Manuel Brug (29 July 2016). "Der Untergang wird freundlich abgenickt". Die Welt (in German). Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  9. ^ Guy Dammann (18 November 2016). "Interview: Thomas Adès". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 20 November 2017.
  10. ^ Mark Swed (9 August 2016). "Exterminating Angel, the most important opera of the year, proves it's here to stay". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  11. ^ Erica Jeal (25 April 2017). "The Exterminating Angel review – anarchy, a lamb shawarma and music of lingering beauty". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  12. ^ Anthony Tommasini (27 October 2017). "If You See One Opera This Year, Make It The Exterminating Angel". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  13. ^ Justin Davidson (27 October 2017). "Opera Review: Surrealism Explored in The Exterminating Angel". Archived from the original on 28 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  14. ^ David Patrick Stearns (27 October 2017). "Review: A Compassion-Free Exterminating Angel Stumbles to Find A Voice". WQXR. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  15. ^ Fiona Maddocks (30 July 2016). "The Exterminating Angel review – a turning point for Adès, and opera". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  16. ^ Tom Service (24 July 2016). "Rifles, bears and Buñuel: Thomas Adès on his new never-ending opera". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 October 2017. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
  17. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (7 November 2017). "At the Met Opera, a Note So High, It's Never Been Sung Before". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 11 January 2018. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  18. ^ "Week 12". Archived from the original on 16 October 2020. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  19. ^ "Nightly Met Opera Streams". Archived from the original on 27 October 2020. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  20. ^ The Exterminating Angel Symphony, Faber Music
  21. ^ BBC Proms

External links[edit]