OP0489. POWDER HER FACE (Thomas Adès), recorded 1995, w. THE COMPOSER Cond. Almeida Ensemble; Jill Gomez, Vladine Anderson, Niall Morris & Roger Bryson. 2-EMI 56649, w.Elaborate 74pp. Libretto-Brochure.
“Simply put, Thomas Adès' chamber opera POWDER HER FACE will likely be one of the strongest, most compelling pieces of contemporary music you've heard in a long while. The libretto, at once tragic and savagely funny, is by the acclaimed young English novelist Philip Hensher and addresses a resonantly scandalous topic: the glamour-drenched life and downfall of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, whose divorce trial in the '50s set benchmark lows for publicizing someone's sex life. Adès' score is a bona fide masterpiece, combining a broad palette of styles and influences, from tango and Cole Porter to Berg's LULU and mordant atonality, all scored with brilliant invention for an ensemble of 15 musicians (here conducted by the composer). But Adès, born in 1971, succeeds where others have stumbled: he's a true man of the theater, and there's no pastiche in the music, which rises above the level of collage (except for one purposely inserted camp tune) and instead coheres into a seamless, thrusting, witty, highly dramatic whole. The four-member cast, led by Jill Gomez as the Duchess, is right on target. Valdine Anderson portrays a series of mocking antagonists (given high-wire acrobatic vocalisms) who precipitate the downfall, while Niall Morris and Roger Bryson bring engaging variety to their multiple roles as the male figures in the Duchess' world. An event not to be missed.”
- Pierre Ruhe