The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès: a guide to the opera’s music and storyline

Michael Beek introduces Thomas Adès's dark and compelling opera, The Exterminating Angel, which inspired Adès's new symphony – which you can hear at this year's BBC Proms

The Exterminating Angel by Thomas Adès: a guide to the opera's music and storyline

British composer Thomas Adès’s opera The Exterminating Angel features an English libretto by Tom Cairns. It is based on the the 1962 film of the same name, directed by the surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel (El Ángel Exterminador). Jointly commissioned by several opera houses, the opera received its premiere performance at the Salzburg Festival in the summer of 2016. UK and US premieres followed in 2017, with Cairns serving as director and Adès himself conducting in the pit.

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The Exterminating Angel’s score

Adès orchestral score features the eerie sound of the Ondes Martenot, which is a fitting accompaniment to the otherwordly goings on.

What is the The Exterminating Angel Symphony?

The composer has since arranged a 20-minute piece based on his score called The Exterminating Angel Symphony, which will be performed at the 2021 BBC Proms.

Demanding for the singers, and thrilling for the audience, The Exterminatin Angel is a riveting piece of work with a wonderfully dark tale at its heart…

What is the storyline of The Exterminating Angel?

In a well-to-do mansion house in 1960s Barcelona, a dinner party gets underway. But something is terribly wrong. For reasons unknown, the guests find that they cannot leave the drawing room – some unassailable force is keeping them from escaping. As the hours turn to days, the guests’ minds and demeanour quickly unravel. Blood is shed, boundaries are crossed and lives are lost, as confusion, hunger and madness reign within the four walls of their gilded cage.

The Exterminating Angel Symphony will be performed at the BBC Proms on Thursday 5 August by the City of Birmingham Symphony, conducted by Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. The performance will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

Read our reviews of the latest Adès recordings 

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Find out more about Adès and his works