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April 28   -   Royal Opera House (The Guardian)

The Exterminating Angel; Doctor Atomic review – incendiary Adès and Adams

Royal Opera House; Barbican, London Two living composers, two powerful operas, two striking performances

On first encounter – at the world premiere in Salzburg last year – Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel challenged ears and eyes simply to keep up, to absorb the panoply of sounds and sights: bells, sheep raw and cooked, lurking bear and large ensemble cast with broadly similar names (Lucía, Leticia, Leonora). Above all there was Adès’s variously noisy, subtle and voluptuous score coloured by ondes martenot, winnowing and bopping throughout, glassy string harmonics, thundering drum rolls, louche solo guitar, upstart rattles of castanets. I found it compelling. What would a second encounter reveal?

With the same (cameo roles aside) all-star, mainly British cast, the opera had its UK premiere at the Royal Opera House on Monday. It was as convincing as before, and also different. The countless musical jokes bristling through the piece – plenty of nods at anyone called Strauss – were funnier. The shifts between lyricism and manic adventure, though now anticipated, were more gripping in their tight control. Other aspects troubled which before had been absorbed: the high-note writing for the female voices, sonically offsetting the casts’s six baritone or bass baritones, at times felt excessive. Only the coloratura soprano Audrey Luna as the “opera singer” Lucia showed no signs of strain. She sang Ariel in Adès’s The Tempest and makes this stratospheric singing sound effortless, tiny high notes exploding like puffs of glitter.

Adès pulls out every card he has and plays each with technical virtuosity – his hallmark for more than 20 years

Related: John Adams: ‘Trump is a sociopath – there’s no empathy, he’s a manipulator'

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