Thomas Adès's Work Edges into the Classical Music Mainstream

Published March 15, 2024

In a remarkable stride for living composers who often grapple with the domination of historical masters in classical music, Thomas Adès garners a significant accomplishment in the contemporary opera scene. The modern musical landscape, which generally privileges the works of long-passed composers, recently witnessed an uncommon event concerning Adès. His operatic piece, 'The Exterminating Angel', originally inspired by Luis Buñuel's film of the same name, not only sees a new lease of life but also premieres an orchestral work.

Contemporary Opera Earns Rare New Production

The stage is set afresh for Adès's ‘The Exterminating Angel’, an opera which started on a high note with its initial unveiling at the prestigious Salzburg Festival back in 2016 and subsequent performance at the Metropolitan Opera the following year. Despite acclaim, the opera faced a daunting path due to its prodigious scale encompassing an extensive cast, a chorus, and an orchestra that includes unique instruments like the eerie-sounding ondes Martenot. The complexity and the cost associated with mounting such a large-scale production have often been seen as prohibitive.

However, in an unexpected turn, ‘The Exterminating Angel’ triumphs over the odds by receiving a novel production directed by Calixto Bieito at the renowned Paris Opera. This milestone is especially significant as new productions of contemporary operas are a rarity, indicating a robust interest in and validation of Adès's work within the classical music domain. What makes this revival stand out is Adès’s direct involvement, leading to an enhanced auditory experience that has been refined since the original performances.

The Essence of Adès's Operatic Achievement

'The Exterminating Angel', with its intense narrative crafted by Adès and Tom Cairns and derived from Buñuel's surrealist cinematic work, is seen by many as one of the most compelling operatic creations of this century. Its portrayal of the extremities of the human condition through themes of intimacy, aggression, and despair align with the essence of what makes opera an enduring art form. At the core of the opera is a plot simple yet profound: individuals enter a chamber and find themselves inexplicably unable to exit.

Following a path less traveled by recent compositions, Adès's 'The Exterminating Angel' not only garners critical praise but also lays down a gauntlet for what may secure a lasting legacy in the canons of classical music. It serves as a testament to the idea that contemporary works—when given the opportunity—can stand shoulder to shoulder with the venerable classics of yore.

Adès, opera, production