The Operas of Thomas Adès

Partners and collaborators

Opera North


This project develops an analytical model for engaging with the interacting systems of meaning found in opera. The stage music of the British composer Thomas Adès (born 1971) offers a vital testing ground for this model. Adès’s operatic aesthetic reveals a dynamic and complex relationship between component media that speaks to broader concerns within contemporary opera. Drawing on recent trends in the field of opera studies, this research presents contemporary opera as staged, dramatic events in which meanings are continually negotiated. Collaborative activity with Opera North, foregrounding issues around the production of meaning within contemporary opera, is central to the project.

The focus on Adès’s operas addresses in turn a lacuna within Adès studies. Few recent operas have achieved the critical and commercial success of Adès’s Powder Her Face (1995), The Tempest (2004) and The Exterminating Angel (2015), yet these works have not received scholarly assessment proportionate to the critical acclaim they have received, to the detriment of the understanding of Adès’s musical output more broadly. To address this, an international network of Adès scholars has worked collaboratively as part of the project to build upon, and initiate new directions into, the study of Adès’s music.

This collaborative activity forms the background to, and complements, the project’s sustained academic enquiry into the interaction of musical, verbal and visual languages in Adès’s operas. With Adès’s fiftieth birthday approaching (2021), this project thus provides a timely rethinking of his achievements to date, and produce a body of scholarship that has the capacity to enrich the field.