Rare, spooky instruments in Adès’s “Exterminating Angel” at Met Opera

Posted on: October 25, 2017

“To transform Luis Buñuel’s surreal, darkly satirical 1962 film ‘The Exterminating Angel’ into an opera, the composer Thomas Adès added a few very unusual instruments to the traditional orchestra,” writes Michael Cooper in Tuesday’s (10/24) New York Times. “Some of them have never, or only very rarely, been heard in the pit of the Metropolitan Opera, which will present the work’s American premiere on Thursday…. At one point Mr. Adès has eight of the orchestra’s violinists trade in their regular instruments for miniature 1/32-size violins…. ‘It makes a very eerie sound,’ [concertmaster David] Chan said…. The opera … is about a group of wealthy guests who assemble for a chic dinner party—and then find themselves inexplicably unable to leave, prevented by some mysterious force. The ondes [Martenot], with its spooky swoops and slides and eerie timbre, represents that strange force…. An unusually large battery of percussion instruments lines the Met’s pit for ‘The Exterminating Angel,’ including a pair of rocks to bang together, paper to be torn, a maraca filled with metal bottle caps … and an array of cowbells. ‘The cowbells are stand-ins for pitched saucepans, which are not readily available,’ [Met Orchestra principal percussionist Gregory] Zuber said.” Video with demonstrations of the instruments is included.

Posted October 25, 2017

Pictured: David Chan, the concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, holds his violin, left, next to a 1/32-size version of the instrument. Credit Karsten Moran / New York Times