Opera Philadelphia’s Aurora Series for Chamber Opera Presents the Company Premiere of POWDER HER FACE by Thomas Adès, June 7-16 at the Perelman Theater
Opera Philadelphia’s Aurora Series for Chamber Opera has produced five seasons of cutting-edge productions at the Perelman Theater, and this June the Opera continues its bold programming with the company premiere of Powder Her Face, composer Thomas Adès’s provocative debut opera based on a real-life sex scandal that rocked the British aristocracy in the 1960s. Tickets from $20 are available via Ticket Philadelphia at 215.893.1018 or operaphila.org.
“She is a beast to an exceptional degree. She is a Don Juan among women. She is insatiable, unnatural and altogether fairly appalling.” These are just some of the epithets hurled at Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, in Adès’s high-society satire. The then 24-year-old composer based his 1995 work on Britain’s so-called “Dirty Duchess,” whose sensational divorce trial, complete with explicit Polaroids and allegations of depraved sexual exploits, riveted the U.K. in 1963.
The Duke bitterly divorced Margaret on grounds of her nymphomania, producing in court those compromising photos along with a list of her 88 alleged “conquests,” including three members of Britain’s Royal Family and Hollywood stars like Bob Hope, Maurice Chevalier, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and David Niven. In her prime, the Duchess’s beauty was so well known she was mentioned in Cole Porter’s song “You’re the Top.” She and the Duke lived in Scotland's Inveraray Castle, a grand estate featured this past season on the hit BBC TV series Downton Abbey.
Adès and librettist Philip Hensher revel in the licentiousness that spilled into the British tabloids, presenting Margaret’s rise as a wealthy, vain party girl – a Lindsay, Paris and Kim lusting for status in the pre-paparazzi, pre-Internet age. The opera is perhaps most infamous for its musical depiction of a sex act between the Duchess and a waiter. The audience will see the aging “It Girl” living alone in a luxury hotel room she cannot afford, surrounded by the possessions she has accrued through a lifetime of materialism. One by one, six decades worth of memories emerge from various wardrobes, dressers and doors, recounting her story for the audience until the excesses of her life threaten to swallow her up.
“In an original and very personal style, Powder Her Face combines elements derived from twentieth century opera, particularly Britten, Weill, Berg, and Stravinsky,” said David B. Devan, General Director and President of Opera Philadelphia. “Thomas Adès combines these with aspects of stage musicals and jazz tradition with references to Piazzolla’s tangos and Cole Porter’s melodies, creating a truly bold and original work.”
While the opera has gained notoriety for its racier moments, Devan believes the heart of Powder Her Face can be found in the opera’s dramatic depiction of the Duchess’s fall into obscurity. “Director William Kerley and set and costume designer Tom Rogers have created a fabulous production that dashes back and forth from the 1930s to 1990 in a stylish, artful way.”
“Powder Her Face does what opera does best: uses brilliant music and bold theatricality to tell a tragic story - a story that sheds a piercing light on our strongest hopes and our deepest delusions,” said director William Kerley, who directed Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia at the Perelman Theater in 2009. “I can’t wait to help tell this tale at Opera Philadelphia.”
Renowned soprano Patricia Schuman, whose career has included leading performances at the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala and Covent Garden among others, makes her role debut as the Duchess. Her three co-stars perform multiple roles. Bass Ben Wager, an Academy of Vocal Arts alumnus who made his company debut in 2009’s The Rape of Lucretia and appeared as The Speaker in April’s The Magic Flute, returns as the Hotel Manager and the Duke. Tenor Christopher Tiesi, a Curtis Institute alumnus who made his Opera Philadelphia debut as Gastone in La traviata in 2010, is the Electrician and Waiter. Soprano Ashley Emerson, heard this season at The Metropolitan Opera in Le nozze di Figaro and Le Comte Ory, is featured as the Maid, the Duke’s mistress, and a society journalist. Maestro Corrado Rovaris leads the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra.
Please be advised that Powder Her Face features adult situations which are inappropriate for young audiences.
Powder Her Face
Music by Thomas Adès
Libretto by Philip Hensher
New Production Company Premiere
June 7, 9m, 12, 14 & 16m, 2013
Aurora Series at the Perelman Theater
Performed in English with English supertitles
Runtime: 2 hours and 10 minutes including one 20-minute intermission
Performance times: Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
Tickets to Powder Her Face may be purchased at www.operaphila.orgor by calling 215.893.1018.
To learn more about Powder Her Face
Please visit our website at operaphila.org/production/powder-her-face to find casting information, a synopsis, biographies, ticketing services and other company information.
The Aurora Series at the Perelman Theater is generously underwritten by Wyncote Foundation.