Adès' Powder Her Face is 'a modern classic'

Powder Her Face ENO general image.jpg
At the age of just 24 Thomas Adès composed his first opera, Powder Her Face, a work which changed the face of opera, not only with its dazzlingly varied score which draws on influences as broad as cabaret, tango, Berg and Stravinsky, but its scandalous contemporary subject which heralded a new era of opera dealing with present-day issues. With over 200 performances since its premiere, the work is something of a modern classic. 
 
The opera’s most recent performances – in a new English National Opera production by director Joe Hill-Gibbins, starring Amanda Roocroft as the notorious Duchess – have inspired renewed admiration for this brilliant score.
 
PRESS:
 
‘its jazzy roilings and ominous, bluesy brass are indeed stunningly unsettling’
‘Adès’s score is held to be the star of this eerie chamber opera, and its jazzy roilings and ominous, bluesy brass are indeed stunningly unsettling, marshalled to perfection by conductor Timothy Redmond. … [Production by Joe Hill-Gibbins] here his direction is serious and pared down, opting to play up the pain in the libretto rather than go nuts with Hensher’s considerable deadpan humour… Soprano Amanda Roocroft is fragile, and vitally earnest as Margaret; Clare Eggington offers playful charm as her hotel maid; bass Alan Ewing is terrifying as the judge who pruriently condemns her.’
Time Out (Andrzej Lukowski), 4 April 2014
 
‘it already counts as a modern classic’
‘Of the many singular aspects of Powder Her Face, from rapturous musical pastiche to sleazy story, the most extraordinary is that it was first seen nearly two decades ago yet still feels fresh and startling. Written when the composer Thomas Adès and the librettist Philip Hensher were still in their 20s, it already counts as a modern classic… Now English National Opera has been more daring and encouraged the theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins, in his first opera, to run wild in Ambika P3, the contemporary arts space in central London… Timothy Redmond conducted with energetic vigilance. Difficult though the space was, it allowed Adès's score, in all its richness from tango to two-step via Berg and Stravinsky, to breathe. The entire work acquired a bloom, superbly played by the 15-strong ensemble. At times it felt hot and crackling, as if about to combust. The unearthly, nervy sound of several fishing reels being turned is a typical moment of invention.’
The Observer (Fiona Maddocks), 6 April 2014
 
‘Ades’s score remains a brilliant achievement’
‘When it was first performed back in 1995, Thomas Ades’s first opera, to a scabrous libretto by Philip Hensher, made the composer’s reputation while becoming notorious for including opera’s first blow-job. Nowadays, with more than 200 performances worldwide and counting, it’s regarded as a modern classic… Ades’s score remains a brilliant achievement - wild, witty and sophisticated in its use of parody and a wide range of references to other musical styles.’
The Stage (George Hall), 3 April 2014
 
‘increasingly awed by the music’s steely brilliance’
‘This must be the fifth time I have seen Thomas Adès’s and Philip Hensher’s opera over the last 19 years. At each encounter, I have been increasingly awed by the music’s steely brilliance and impressed by its camp yet clear-eyed dissection of the Balzacian tale of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, victim of her own stupidity and cupidity as well as the hypocrisy of the press and the establishment.’ 
The Telegraph (Rupert Christiansen), 3 April 2014
 
‘From foxtrots that recall Peter Maxwell Davies to dramatic, Shostakovich-like evocations, the music rarely holds back’
‘Where this production gains over previous incarnations of Powder Her Face is in its compassionate even-handedness towards the grande dame at its heart. She is a pathetic soul, trapped in the straitjacket of her own snobbishness and doomed to be branded a trollop thanks to a messy divorce that hinged on Polaroid evidence of her engagement in oral sex. The chamber-sized orchestrations by Adès (who was 24 when he wrote Powder Her Face in 1995) are brash and strident, as in-yer-face as the Duchess's peccadillo. From foxtrots that recall Peter Maxwell Davies to dramatic, Shostakovich-like evocations, the music rarely holds back.’
What’s On Stage (Mark Valencia), 3 April 2014
 
‘Adès’s music is haunting in its sheer brilliance’
‘This English National Opera production, directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, is brilliantly staged in the warehouse-like venue of Ambika P3 on Marylebone Road, and no attempt is made to mask its rough and ready infrastructure... The set-up also enables the protagonists to approach the audience directly, and it feels a privilege to be in such close proximity to some truly world-class performers as they sing. Amanda Roocroft is an exceptional Duchess with a voice of such passion and yet technical refinement. As the Hotel Manager, Duke and Judge, Alan Ewing is an exceptionally vibrant and assertive bass, while Claire Eggington and Alexander Sprague excel in the multiple roles that they play. Thomas Adès’s music is haunting in its sheer brilliance. With its discordances and elements of twelve-tone, it has a touch of the film noir about it, which proves perfect for capturing the air of seduction, intrigue and danger that lies at the heart of the piece.’
Londonist (Sam Smith), 7 April 2014