POWDER HER FACE, the opera by Thomas Adès narrates the scandalous life of the Duchess of Argyll

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by OPERA Charm Team
March 7, 2023

For the first time in Turin the opera by Thomas Adès.
A new exhibition that pays homage to the erotic portraits of Carlo Mollino.

Piccolo Regio Puccini, between March 10th-18th, 2023

BIOGRAPHY

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INTERVIEW

On Friday, March 10th, at 8 pm, for the first time in Turin, the Piccolo Regio Puccini will stage Powder Her Face (“Incipriale il viso”) by the English composer Thomas Adès. Premiered in 1995 at the Cheltenham Music Festival, it is one of the most frequently performed contemporary works in the theatre, as well as having had a film version.

The ironic and witty libretto by Philip Henscher is based on the life of Ethel Margaret Whigham and her stormy divorce from her second husband, Ian Douglas Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, which caused uproar and scandal in 1963. The trial ended with the Duchess being convicted of adultery and lewd acts and unleashed the itches of the British tabloids, starting with the evidence that Campbell brought to the judge: a list of eighty-eight names, allegedly his wife’s lovers, and ‘spicy’ Polaroids. Abandoned by everyone, she lived between 1978 and 1990 in a flat at the Grosvenor House Hotel, from which she was evicted for debt. She spent the last years of her life in a nursing home, where she died in July 1993.

The play is divided into eight scenes separated by musical interludes; the first and last scenes are set in the 1990s, while the others span the 1930s and 1970s. Between continuous flashbacks, memories chase each other and intertwine in a game of disguises and double entendres in pure British style, thanks to compelling and enigmatic music.

Powder Her Face is the first opera written by Thomas Adès, a composer, pianist and conductor born in London in 1971. After studying at King’s College, Cambridge, he served as Artistic Director of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and became a Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music. His operatic compositions, in addition to Powder Her Face (1995), include The Tempest (2004), recently staged to great acclaim at La Scala in Milan and The Exterminating Angel (2016), an adaptation of Luis Buñuel’s surrealist film of the same name.

The new Teatro Regio production – staged for five performances from March 10th to 18th – is signed by director Paolo Vettori; the 23-year-old Riccardo Bisatti conducts the Teatro Regio Torino Orchestra; the stars on stage are Irina Bogdanova in the role of the duchess, Amélie Hois (playing 6 characters) and Thomas Cilluffo, who plays 5 roles: all are part of the Regio Ensemble, the community of artists in residence at the Regio. Lorenzo Mazzucchelli, who plays 5 roles, completes the cast. The sets are by Claudia Boasso, costumes by Laura Viglione and lighting by Gianni Bertoli.
Powder Her Face is performed in the original English language, with Italian subtitles; in addition, a theatre booklet with the original text and Italian translation will be available.

Says conductor Riccardo Bisatti: “Having the opportunity to tackle a score like Thomas Adès’ Powder Her Face is certainly a great challenge. Technically it puts a great strain on the conductor, but what strikes me most about this work is the great naturalness with which Adès tells the story of the Duchess of Argyll through sound. The music of Powder Her Face blends perfectly with the stage action, immediately transporting the audience into a theatrical, almost cinematic dimension. For the audience, it constitutes an unusual and extremely engaging listening experience.”

“It is a work of truly extraordinary modernity,” says director Paolo Vettori, “the spectator does not take long to realise that he is basically witnessing the representation of our society, of the irresistible desire to spy through the keyhole to judge the other, of the mud machine ready to activate at the first opportunity. Eroticism and memory are mixed, leaving an extraordinary woman to emerge at the centre of the scene, a ‘libertine’ punished by society with a determination and ferocity quite different from that destined for Don Juan, the male counterpart of libertinism”.

Claudia Boasso, author of the scenes, adds: “The scene takes place in a room with worn, almost asylum-like walls, contrasting with the memories and objects of a life lived in luxury. The famous scandalous Polaroids that got her convicted become a homage to the erotic Polaroids taken by Carlo Mollino. Thanks to the collaboration of Casa Mollino, we were, therefore, able to reproduce them in large size on the back of the stage set so as to evoke that world where ‘everything is allowed’, captured by the brilliant eye of the Turinese architect”.

Not recommended for audiences under 16.

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Alice Lechner

Alice Lechner comes from a music-loving family. Her first encounter with the opera universe was at the tender age of six. The grandeur of the stage productions and costumes, the backstage chatter, and last, but definitely not least, the music left her in awe, beginning with Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The overall feeling that opera awakens in anyone who gets a glimpse into this part of artistic eternity, that each and every day passes the test of time, was what drew her to stay and be a part of this world. The Opera House of Brașov became her second home, and the people who worked there were her second family.

Since then, Alice has devoted her spare time to maximising her musical knowledge through instrumental studies, studying both piano and violin for a short time. In the following years, her number one passion stepped out of the limelight and graciously gave way to Law Studies.
Since 2018 she has been studying Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Her passion for opera, even if it is no longer her top professional priority in terms of career, it has most definitely become her priority during her free time. Wanting to experience the best of both worlds and extend her musical horizons, she regularly attends opera performances throughout Romania and abroad.
With OPERA Charm Magazine, Alice aims to nurture her creative side to help it flourish and bloom and to discover, alongside the magazine’s readers, the fascinatingly complex world of opera.

Currently, she is an LL.M. in Business Law at “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University in Iași.

Oana Zamfir

Oana Zamfir is a second year MA student at the “George Enescu” National University of Arts, at the Department of Musicology.

She studied violin for 12 years at the “Stefan Luchian” High School of Art in Botosani, later focusing on the theoretical aspects of music. In 2019 she completed her bachelor studies in Musicology as a student of the National Academy of Music “Gheorghe Dima” in Cluj-Napoca. Her research during 2018-2019 brought to the forefront elements of the archaic ritual within works of composers who activated during the communist period, giving her the opportunity to start a research internship at the “Carl von Ossietzky” University in Germany. In this context, she recorded conversations with members of the Sophie Drinker Institute in Bremen, and had access to documents directly from the Myriam Marbé archive.

Since 2019 she has been a teacher of Music Education and Theoretical Music Studies, making full use of interactive methods in the musical training of students and working, at the same time, with the children’s choir founded in the first year of her activity.

Her interests include pursuing a degree in interior design in 2020.

Alexandru Suciu

Alexandru Suciu inherited his passion for art growing up in a family of several generations of musicians. He began his musical studies at the “Augustin Bena” School of Music in Cluj, where he studied piano and guitar. Even though his main study direction was philological, his passion for music prevailed. He began his academical journey at the Faculty of Letters of the “Babeș-Bolyai” University, studying Comparative literature and English. He continued by studying Opera Singing at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy. He also graduated the Musical Education section, followed by Artistic Directing at the Musical Performing Arts department.

His multidisciplinary education opened the doors towards research, which is seen both through his participation in national and international conferences and symposia, such as the Salzburg Easter School PhD-forum, organized by the Salzburg Universität or the Silesian Meeting of Young Scholars, organized by the Institute of English at the University of Silesia, as well as the collaboration with Opera Charm Magazine.

During his student years, he won several prizes, including the Grand Prize at the “Paul Constantinescu” National Musical Interpretation Competition, the Romanian Composers and Musicologists’ Union Prize at the same competition, the First Prize and the Schubert Prize at the “Ada Ulubeanu” Competition.

He further developed his artistic skills by specializing in courses and masterclasses held by personalities such as Vittorio Terranova, Giuseppe Sabbatini, Marian Pop, Ines Salazar, Riccardo Zanellato, Paolo Bosisio, Valentina Farcaș and Manuel Lange in contexts such as the Internationale Sommerakademie für Operngesang Deutschlandsberg, Corso Internazionale di Canto Lirico I.M.C. Licata or the Europäische Akademie für Musik und darstellende Kunst Montepulciano. Besides his activity on-stage, he currently teaches Opera Singing Didactics, and Pedagogical Practice within the Department for Teacher Education and Training at the “Gheorghe Dima” National Music Academy.

Cristina Fieraru

Cristina is a 24 year-old Romanian soprano & a student at the National University of Music Bucharest, where she pursues the MA program in Vocal Performance.

She made her debut in Pamina from “Die Zauberflöte” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at only 19 years old at the Bucharest National Opera House, as a member of the Ludovic Spiess Experimental Opera Studio. Over the years she made her debut in roles such as Contessa d’Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro), Mimì & Musetta (La Bohème), Alice Ford (Falstaff), Erste Dame (Die Zauberflöte) in her university’s opera productions.
Her passion and experience extends in the field of choral music, too.

She has been part of our dream team since the fall of 2021. For a good period of time she took care of OPERA Charm’s social media and took you on the monthly journey through the history of opera through our Legends rubric – and a few times through the Theaters around the World rubric.

Her little soul rubric – from 2021 to present – is definitely the Conductors of the Future, where, every month, she gives you the chance to meet a young star of the world of conducting and, of course, to find out what’s the most charming feature of opera in these artists’ views.

BIANCA L. NICA

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