Culture Magazine

Opera Review: Sex Crime

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Opera Philadelphia mounts Powder Her Face.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Opera Review: Sex Crime

Patricia Schuman as Margaret Campbell, the "dirty Duchess."
Photo by Kelly & Massa, © 2013 Opera Philadelphia.

For better or worse, the excessive lifestyle, erotic exploits and 1963 divorce proceedings of the late Margaret Campbell, the former Duchess of Argyll established the British tabloid as a journalistic institution. Thirty years later, Mrs. Campbell's tawdry affairs inspired a young British composer, Thomas Adés, to make the so-called "dirty Duchess" the subject of his first opera, Powder Her Face.
Mrs. Campbell was a socialite and bon vivant who was considered one of the most beautiful women of the mid 20th century. (She allegedly inspired composer Cole Porter to write "You're the Top." At the the divorce court, her husband alleged that she engaged in extramarital sex with as many as 88 partners. The judge labeled her as a " completely promiscuous woman whose sexual appetite could only be satisfied with a number of men."
Plus, there were Polaroids.
This Opera Philadelphia production (by William Kerley and designer Tom Rogers) is the second new production of Powder on the East Coast this year. It couches Mrs. Campbell's activities in a unit hotel bedroom, with love-seats, an enormous bed and a blizzard of Polaroids emerging silently from cabinets in the walls. The silent, sliding furniture lends a touch of the surreal to the proceedings, as one is never sure if the following simulated sex is real or a product of the main character's increasing dementia.
For this production, soprano Patricia Schuman was a late replacement as Mrs. Campbell. She is a flawless fit for the part, playing the lady with an elegant exterior that hides a rotten, soulless core. Her supple, athletic soprano meets the demands of this music, with a cool center and hot upper end. The more titillating moments  (the infamous "humming" sex scene) are played straight, and are funnier as a result.
She is flanked by a young cast of three players that play the other seventeen parts in the show. In her company debut, Ashley Emerson has even higher music to sing, taking on her five roles and racing through the Mozartean passages with the ease born of long conservatory training. The silvery, almost icey edge to her coloratura that fits the amorality of her her respective characters.
Tenor Christopher Tiesi meets the multiple challenges of his roles with a light, pleasant tenor and good comic instincts. This is particularly apparent in his long scene with Ms. Schuman as a hotel waiter who plays the innocent victim until revealing that this is his second encounter with Mrs. Campbell's voracious appetites.
Ben Wager is a talented baritone and comic actor with a dark edge to his voice. As the Duke (Mrs. Campbell's husband) he gets the most hypocritical role in the show, deciding to ditch his wife for infidelity when in bed with his Mistress. He underlines the injustice of the situation by also acting as the judge in a comic trial that owes something to both Gilbert and Sullivan and the last act of Pink Floyd's The Wall.
In a final slap to the Duchess' face, he returns as the Hotel Manager to evict the destitute heroine from her meager digs. This eviction is played as a parody and reverse of the standard operatic finale, as the lady in question fights and struggles against being taken out of her room (and thus offstage.) Ms. Schuman is exceptional in this circumstance, bringing pathos and a welcome touch of sympathy to this decidedly unsympathetic heroine.


You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Big Food Giants Manipulate Public Health Policy in China

    Food Giants Manipulate Public Health Policy China

    Coca-Cola is at it again. As soda sales decline in the United States and Europe, beverage companies look to emerging economies like China for growth. And, it... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Dietdoctor
    DIET & WEIGHT, HEALTH, HEALTHY LIVING, MEDICINE
  • Jewellery for a Precious You

    Jewellery Precious

    Jewellery is always close to a woman’s heart. It completes her look and boost confidence. Considering the changing trends in jewellery fashion, it becomes... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Dr.jenifer Sayyed
    LIFESTYLE
  • Rajshri Productions’ Next Is A Film On Friendship | Hum Chaar | Trailer

    Abhishek Dixit’s debut feature film Hum Chaar is a Bollywood film made under the banner of Rajshri’s film. Hum Chaar is written and directed by Abhishek Dixit. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Themoviean
    ENTERTAINMENT, MOVIES
  • Saint Paul the First Hermit

    Saint Paul First Hermit

    Today is the feast day of Saint Paul the hermit. This is a sweet and delicate Oatmeal Bread topped with rolled oats and naturally sweetened with agave. Saint... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Veronica46
    FOOD & DRINK, RECIPES
  • Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu | Teaser | Pranav Mohanlal | Arun Gopy

    Arun Gopy’s Irupathiyonnaam Noottaandu is an upcoming Malayalam action-drama feature film starring Pranav Mohanlal and Zaya David in the lead roles. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Themoviean
    ENTERTAINMENT, MOVIES
  • A Year Of Body Positivity

    Year Body Positivity

    Last January, as I sat there on New Years eve all set to make the same old resolutions I've made year after year for as long as I can remember, I realised how... Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Sparklesandstretchmarks
    DIARIES, SELF EXPRESSION
  • Garden Bloggers Bloom Day – Jan 2019

    Garden Bloggers Bloom 2019

    Euphorbia rigidaWhen I went out to take the photos for this blog post I was surprised at how much was in flower dotted around the garden. Read more

    The 15 January 2019 by   Patientgardener
    GARDENING, HOME