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THOMAS ADÈS'S THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL

Abstract
ABSTRACT

Thomas Adès's third opera, The Exterminating Angel, is based closely upon Luis Buñuel's 1962 film El ángel exterminador, in which the hosts and guests at a high-society dinner party find themselves inexplicably unable to leave the dining room. Initial critical response to the opera too often focused on superficial similarities and discrepancies between the two works at the expense of attending to the specifically musical ways in which Adès presented the drama. This article explores the role that repetition plays in the opera, and in particular how repetitions serve both as a means of critiquing bourgeois sensibilities and as a representation of (loss of) will. I conclude by drawing on the work of Deleuze in order to situate the climax of the opera against the notion of the eternal return, highlighting how the music articulates the dramatic failure of the characters to escape.

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1 Christian Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’: Thomas Adès and Tom Cairns Talk About The Exterminating Angel’, programme booklet for The Exterminating Angel, Salzburger Festspiele (22 July–31 August 2016), pp. 46–57, at pp. 46–7 available online at http://seenandheard-international.com/2016/07/new-interview-with-thomas-ades-and-tom-cairns-about-the-operas-world-premiere/ (accessed 20 November 2016). It is likely that Adès saw the Channel 4 broadcast of the film on 4 April 1984’.

2 Sally Cavender reports that attempts to secure the copyright for the film began in 2001. Faber Music News (Autumn 2016), p. 2.

3 Matthew Erikson, ‘Thomas Adès in all his aspects’, Los Angeles Times, 6 March 2011, www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-ca-spring-thomas-ades-20110306-story.html (accessed 20 November 2016).

4 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 48.

5 ‘Salzburg Festival Commissions 4 New Operas’, CBC News (17 November 2011) www.cbc.ca/news/arts/salzburg-festival-commissions-4-new-operas-1.982029 (accessed 20 November 2016).

6 Adès Thomas and Service Tom, Thomas Adès: Full of Noises (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012); hereafter abbreviated to TA:FON.

7 TA:FON, p. 12.

8 TA:FON, p. 128.

9 TA:FON, p. 14; Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 49.

10 TA:FON, p. 48.

11 Comparison between the libretto and translations found in The Exterminating Angel, Nazarin and Los Olividados: three films by Luis Buñuel, trans. Fry Nicholas (London: Lorrimer Publishing, 1972) and the DVD release of the film (Arrow Films, 2006) reveal close correspondences and literal repetitions.

12 See, for instance, Tom Service, ‘Rifles, Bears and Buñuel: Thomas Adès On His New Never-Ending Opera’, The Guardian, 24 July 2016, www.theguardian.com/music/2016/jul/24/thomas-ades-the-exterminating-angel-bunuel-opera-interview (accessed 20 November 2016).

13 Andrew Clements, ‘Adès Delivers Unmissable Operatic Adaptation’, The Guardian, 29 July 2016.

14 Anthony Tommasini, ‘In This Opera, You Can Depart, but You Can Never Leave’, The New York Times, 29 July 2016.

15 Shirley Apthorp, ‘The Exterminating Angel, Haus für Mozart, Salzburg – “Adès's score is brilliant”’, The Financial Times, 29 July 2016.

16 Hutcheon Linda, A Theory of Adaptation (New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 6 .

17 See Delueze Gilles, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Tomlinson Hugh and Habberjam Barbara (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 125–38.

18 TA:FON, p. 26. Emphasis added.

19 Deleuze Gilles, Difference and Repetition, trans. Patton Paul (London: The Athlone Press, 1994), p. 300 .

20 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. xix.

21 Buñuel Luis, My Last Breath, trans. Israel Abigail (Fontana: London, 1985), p. 239 .

22 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, pp. 51, 53. Guy Dammann is one of the few critics to focus on this aspect of the score: ‘Chilling Moments of Rupture’, Times Literary Supplement, 19 August, 2016, pp. 24–5.

23 See Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, pp. 88–91, 298–9.

24 Somers-Hall Henry, ‘Time out of Joint: Hamlet and the Pure Form of Time’, Deleuze Studies, 5 (2011), pp. 5676 , at pp. 69–70.

25 For an introduction to Deleuze's three syntheses of time, see Williams James, Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time: A Critical Introduction and Guide (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011).

26 Williams, Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time, p. 113.

27 Bar numbers in this table and throughout the article refer to the revised version of the score (completed November 2016). With the exception of four bars added to the final ‘High Requiem Mass’ at the conclusion of the opera, the revisions focus predominantly on tempo, phrasing, dynamic and textural changes.

28 Character list from Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel adapted from Three films by Luis Buñuel trans. Fry, p. 17.

29 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, pp. 54–5.

30 Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation, p. 8 (emphasis added).

31 Adès has commented that ‘I'm not Jewish, but I carry a name of immemorial Jewish origin, and that awareness of the transitoriness of place – it may not be unrelated’. TA:FON, p. 67.

32 The basis of the first two-thirds of Act I Scene 6 is that of Adès's Variations for Blanca (2015) for solo piano, over which vocal lines are added.

33 Adès has suggested that the further removed a character is from bourgeois pretensions, the more they are able to understand the ‘power of the exterminating angel’, citing Leticia, Eduardo and Beatriz (Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 51). Later on, he includes in this list Blanca (as a musician, Jewish exile and non-aristocrat) and Leonora, with her Kabbalah obsession (Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 55). It is significant, therefore, that these are the five characters who sing to texts external to Buñuel's The Exterminating Angel.

34 Translation from Fry, Three films by Luis Buñuel, p. 24. The connection to Manrique was made by Mémbrez Nancy J., ‘El angel exterminador de Luis Buñuel: auto sacramental cinematogáfico’, Significação: Revista de Cultura Audiovisual, vol. 35, no. 29 (June 2008), pp. 2943 , at p. 29.

35 Vidal Agustin Sánchez, Luis Buñuel (Madrid: Cátedra, 1991), pp. 237–8, cited in Miles Robert J., ‘Virgin on the Edge: Luis Buñuel's Transnational Trope’, Studies in Hispanic Cinemas 2 (2006), pp. 169–88 at 173.

36 See Edwards Gwynne, The Discreet Art of Luis Buñuel: A Reading of His Films (London: Mario Boyars 1982), pp. 171–92.

37 See Miles, ‘Virgin on the Edge’.

38 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, pp. 78, 79.

39 Williams, Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time, p. 116.

40 TA:FON, p. 26.

41 TA:FON, p. 91.

42 Edwards, The Discreet Art of Luis Buñuel, pp. 176–7.

43 Olney Ian, ‘Repetition (with difference) and Ludic Deferral in the Later Films of Luis Buñuel’, Quarterly Review of Film and Video 18 (2001), pp. 7182 , at pp. 71, 75–6.

44 Edwards suggests that there are ‘some twenty’ formal repetitions in the film that serve to ‘underline the repetitive nature of human lives and actions as a whole, formalised into rites and rituals of the bourgeoisie’. The Discreet Art of Luis Buñuel, p. 175.

45 The text of ‘Lavaba la blanca niña’ belongs to the genre of the ‘faithful wife’, which creates a further loose thematic link with Eduardo and Beatriz.

46 TA:FON, p. 16.

47 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 54.

48 The bells ‘function as a sort of herald for the exterminating angel’. Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 54.

49 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 50.

50 My thanks go to Martin Iddon for this observation and other useful suggestions in this article.

51 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 50.

52 Deleuze Gilles, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Tomlinson Hugh and Galeta Robert (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 80 .

53 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 47.

54 See, for instance, my Thomas Adès: Asyla (Abingdon: Routledge, 2017), pp. 1622 for a discussion of Adès's use of intervallic cycles, which I argue are ‘semantically and expressively neutral’, requiring ‘specific musical realisation in order to come to life’ (p. 22).

55 Alex Ross, ‘An Explosive Opera of “The Exterminating Angel”’, The New Yorker, 22 August 2016, www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/08/22/thomas-ades-the-exterminating-angel (accessed 20 November 2016).

56 Williams, Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time, pp. 127–8.

57 Fry, Three films by Luis Buñuel, p. 96.

58 TA:FON, p. 21. Adès and Service return to the theme of doors when discussing The Exterminating Angel on pages 176–9.

59 Deleuze, Cinema 1, p. 132 (emphasis added).

60 Olney, ‘Repetition (with difference)’, p. 76.

61 Williams, Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time, p. 90.

62 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 89.

63 See, for instance, Raymond Durgnat, Luis Buñuel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 129.

64 For Adès, ‘To arrive at a real musical resolution, the patterns and cycles have to be subdued, recombined by the composer's hand to produce a new doorway, if you like. And that's exactly what Leticia does at the end, but of course then her aria just becomes another dominant waiting for resolution’. Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 56.

65 Williams, Gilles Deleuze's Philosophy of Time, p. 118.

66 Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, p. 298.

67 Arseni, ‘Why Do We Ever Do Anything?’, p. 53.

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