New York City Opera Opens Spring Season With POWDER ON HER FACE, 2/15-23
New York City Opera opens its spring 2013 season with a new production of Powder Her Face (1995), composed by Thomas Adès (b.1971) to a libretto by Philip Hensher (b. 1965). The world premiere of the opera, inspired by a sex scandal that rocked Britain in the early 60s, not only caused controversy, with its on-stage depiction of fellatio, but also propelled Adès to international recognition. Reviewing the premiere, The Sunday Times critic Paul Driver called Powder Her Face "one of the most striking new operas I have seen in years," and added, "From the tango of the overture to the tango of the close, one is on The Edge of one's seat trying to catch as much as possible of the prolific, fast-altering, vividly etched and instrumentally outrageous detail of a score which is boiling with life."
Conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer, whose artistry is as musically omnivorous as Adès' score, and directed by Jay Scheib, who is known for technologically rich theatrical innovation, the opera returns to BAM, where it was semi-staged at the Majestic (now Harvey) Theater as part of the 1998 Next Wave Festival.
Performances will take place February 15-23 at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House (30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn): February 15, 21 and 23 at 7:30 P.M., and February 17 at 1:30 P.M. Tickets, $25-$250, can be purchased at 718.636.4100 or BAM.org. Please note: The production contains nudity and scenes of a sexual nature; parental discretion is advised.
Powder Her Face centers around a series of Polaroids presented during the 1963 divorce case against Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll. In the pictures, Campbell, dubbed the "Dirty Duchess" for the eighty-eight men with whom she allegedly had extramarital affairs, appeared nude, wearing only her signature pearl necklace. Some of the photos showed the Duchess performing oral sex on a man whose face was not visible. He was crowned "the headless man" by the tabloids, and his identity was the subject of much speculation.
Through the prism of Campbell's life story, Powder Her Face explores the intersection of gender, politics and power. Scheib has said, "Powder Her Face, with its high-speed turns, feels on the surface like a Don Giovanni-but this one's about a woman who does what she wants how and when she wants. Adès has singlehandedly resurrected the reputation of one Dirty Duchess, as dreamt by Jean Genet-and the music is absolutely thrilling."