Sonic Allegory in Thomas Adès’s ‘The Exterminating Angel’

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February 2, 2018 - February 2, 2018

12:00 am - 5:00 pm

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Join us on Friday, February 2nd from 4pm-5pm, as we launch a new STM Faculty Lecture Series. The format is simple: A member of the STM faculty will lecture about and/or perform excerpts from what they are working on now, followed by informal discussion. The series provides opportunities for faculty to rehearse an idea, share work in progress, and/or inspire future collaboration, research, and creative work.

Sonic Allegory in Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel (2015)

In Walter Benjamin’s late writing on Baudelaire, allegory arises through an intuitive apprehension of the world and an inner experience that is fragmentary and enigmatic, characterized further by abrupt discontinuity and change of referentiality. Taking cues from Benjamin, this paper focuses on sonic moments that take a sharp allegorical turn in Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel (2015). In adapting Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film El ángel exterminador for opera, Tom Cairns’s libretto retains the surrealistic fabula of the film narrative, while Adès’s music mocks the impropriety of high-society elites through distortion of musical topics, time, and place. The Onde Martenot’s uncanny presence as the voice of the exterminating angel and the opera’s fractured temporality lead us to wrestle with the opera’s allegorical significance at several registers: is it a commentary on the oppression of the Franco regime or the passivity of the bourgeoisie in general? In concluding, the paper explores the intersection between hermeneutics and cognitive psychology in constructing a broader framework for analyzing sound as a source of allegory in contemporary opera.

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