‘The Exterminating Angel’ Brings Together Opera and the Movies

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‘The Exterminating Angel’ Brings Together Opera and the Movies

Post by lennygoran » Thu Nov 02, 2017 6:20 am

‘The Exterminating Angel’ Brings Together Opera and the Movies


The Metropolitan Opera has looked to other artistic disciplines for shots of energy in recent years. This has mostly taken the form of invitations to directors from Broadway (Bartlett Sher), dance (Mark Morris), art (William Kentridge) and film (Anthony Minghella).

But a new opera that opened at the Met last week takes its very inspiration, if not its production team, from a cinematic touchstone. Thomas Adès’s “The Exterminating Angel,” based on the 1962 Luis Buñuel film, tells the story of a hellish soiree from which none of the partygoers can bring themselves to leave, even after food, water and pretensions to amiability have been exhausted.

“If you go to a single production this season, make it this one,” Anthony Tommasini wrote in his review of the premiere in The New York Times. Glenn Kenny, who writes about film for the Times, and Seth Colter Walls, who covers music, attended the final dress rehearsal to discuss how opera and movies intersect within the work, which runs through Nov. 21 and will be broadcast live to cinemas worldwide on Nov. 18.

SETH COLTER WALLS To start with the most obvious question: Do people need to watch the film before seeing the opera?

GLENN KENNY The opera tells this peculiar story clearly and strongly. You can, I think, go into the Met with no idea of the source material and experience a work that speaks to you. But people should watch the film regardless! It’s one of Buñuel’s most enigmatic and entertaining works. It feels very deadpan, almost tossed off, which is a key feature of his style. The opera is more, well, operatic.

I think Buñuel understood and loved music as much as any other film director. But the movies from his fecund late period in France don’t have musical scores. There’s music in some of them — memorably, the flamenco that Ángela Molina dances to in “That Obscure Object of Desire” — but no scores. The music in those late films is mostly in their rhythms. In “Belle de Jour,” when the film wants to convey the disjointed consciousness and subconscious of its conflicted heroine, her memories and fantasies are cut with a syncopated abruptness.

WALLS This is one of the biggest hurdles for a composer trying to adapt Buñuel: defining in music something that originally had little of it. Mr. Adès responds to the challenge with a crazily varied score. His earlier works have exhibited some similar traits; his 1995 opera “Powder Her Face” is full of self-consciously outrageous winking.

But his sounds here are stranger and funnier. He emphasizes the situation’s surrealism with his choice of instruments, like the ondes Martenot and its ethereal, swooping tones. Miniature violins and a salad bowl are included.

The orchestra’s “regular” instruments also get in on the fun. There’s a lot of dissonance in some of the ensemble scenes — but also some abstracted waltz pulses that are amusing for the would-be-elegant way they wander in from nowhere. What did you make of the music?

KENNY Even though there’s little music in the film, “The Exterminating Angel” is about people attending a dinner party after an opera — Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” — and the film is steeped in music appreciation. One of the guests, Blanca, entertains everyone on the piano, and there’s talk of pizzicato and sonatas. The most beautiful woman in the group, Leticia, is mockingly given the Wagnerian nickname “Valkyrie.”

It’s commendable that Mr. Adès doesn’t take these specific classical-music allusions as a cue for lazy pastiche. When Leticia’s nickname is first mentioned, a Wagnerian motif does not follow. That’s not to say that Mr. Adès isn’t referential. Like many of our best contemporary composers, he’s got an exhaustive command of musical idioms. I heard percussion like that of Calanda, the town where Buñuel was from; flamenco; Wagner by way of Bernard Herrmann.

WALLS During intermission, you reminded me that Buñuel used the “Liebestod” from Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde” twice, in “Un Chien Andalou” and “L’Age d’Or,” right at the start of his career.

KENNY The “Liebestod” was a piece of music Buñuel was drawn to almost as much as he was to the drums of Calanda. He also uses it in a rarity, his 1953 Mexican adaptation of “Wuthering Heights.” For him the “Liebestod” is the ultimate musical expression of amour fou, the surrealist ideal of wild romantic love, an overwhelming destructive force against bourgeois values.

WALLS It’s clear that he enjoyed music and that he also detested the snobbish attitudes that can ruin our experience of it. In “The Exterminating Angel,” the characters seem to become enmeshed in their fateful trap right after the pianist’s performance, when a conductor in the group harshly corrects another guest who uses the wrong terminology. It’s as if that casual elitist cruelty is spurring Buñuel on.

KENNY That’s an interesting read on it. Almost invariably, Buñuel’s films, when they depict the bourgeoisie, depict forces at work to confuse or punish it. This theme, and its particular pertinence today, may be why artists are lately drawn to “The Exterminating Angel.” There’s Mr. Adès and Stephen Sondheim, who’s at work on a musical that merges the story with “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” another film about an upper-class dinner party gone awry that Buñuel made 10 years later.

But I have never looked at the outlandish situations in terms of cause and effect. I always see Buñuel as a deadpan presenter of outsize existential quandaries with no rational explanation.

WALLS When I glanced over some of Buñuel’s writings, I found many references to music. In a short 1922 piece, “Orchestration,” he came up with character sketches for instruments. About the cello: “Murmurs of sea and woods. Serenity. Deep eyes. They have the conviction and grandeur of Jesus’s sermons in the desert.” Regarding the timpani: “Skins filled with olives.”

By the time he wrote his autobiography, “My Last Sigh,” he was suffering from deafness. Yet his musical memory was still crisp: He recalled trying to draft André Breton into opera fandom. It didn’t take since the production, of Charpentier’s “Louise,” was bad enough to drive everyone from the theater.

KENNY That last chapter of “My Last Sigh,” in which he describes his preparation for death, is sad and funny at once — and never more poignant than when he complains that his deafness has made it impossible for him to listen to music.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/01/arts ... collection

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Re: ‘The Exterminating Angel’ Brings Together Opera and the Movies

Post by RebLem » Tue Nov 07, 2017 1:10 am

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra has been doing a series on film music, with the music tracks deleted from the films, and with the accompaniement provided by the CSO. I think some other orchestras are doing the same thing.
I had a friend a long time ago who was a violinist in the CSO. He made the comment once that the film music for the 1947 film Scott of the Antarctic, from which Ralph Vaughan Williams extracted his 7th Symphony, was better than the symphony version. I'd really like to see Scott of the Antarctic sometime with the music performed by the CSO or some other major orchestra.
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