Notes and Editorial Reviews
Running Time: 161 minutes
Region Code: 1
Picture Format: NTSC
Audio: Dolby 2.0
Starring: Heather Buck, Daniel Norman and Graeme Broadbent
Conductor: Thomas Adès
Composer: Thomas Adès
Thomas Adès wrote the chamber opera Powder Her Face in 1995, at the age of 24, to a joint commission from London's Almeida Opera and the Cheltenham Festival. Its success, together with a string of other compositions, brought Adès real international recognition and resulted in him being hailed as the next Benjamin Britten. Since its première, it has been produced in America, Australia and throughout Europe, repeatedly generating press
To a libretto by Philip Hensher, the piece is based on the life of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, a woman brazenly avaricious for money and sexual experience but whose story, Adès says, shows that “even horrible people are tragic”. In the early 1990s, the aged and isolated duchess is seen living at London’s Dorchester Hotel, oblivious to her now straitened financial circumstances and her imminent eviction. A series of flashbacks to her colourful past in the ’30s, ’50s and ’60s, is enacted by three hotel workers who, in the present, treat her with barely-concealed derision.
Adès’s brilliant score incorporates skewed imitations of the popular music of her prime: tangos, tea dances, and Cole Porteresque songs. The fifteen strong orchestra consists of clarinets, saxophones, brass, strings, accordion and percussion, an ensemble similar to the dance bands of yesteryear.
Adapted and filmed specially for television in studio and on location, David Alden’s production boasts authentically lavish period settings. Mary Plazas’ powerful portrayal of the duchess is complemented by the performances of Heather Buck, Daniel Norman and Graeme Broadbent, and Thomas Adès himself conducts the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.
Works on This Recording
Powder Her Face, Op. 14 by Thomas Adès
Heather Buck (Soprano),
Daniel Norman (Tenor),
Graeme Broadbent (Baritone)
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1995; England
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