Performed in the original English with Czech surtitles
Not suitable for those under 18.
Premiere on 29th January 2016, RedutaTheatre
Scandals in life as well as on the stage.
Social scandals are the spice of life; it is a truth as old as humankind. And if scandals are to inspire an artistic work, opera is the choice. The British composer Thomas Adèse wrote his first opera Powder Her Face aged only twenty-four. It was commissioned by Cheltenham Music Festival. The subject matter chosen by the authors seemed to be ready‑made for an opera. In vivid episodes, it shows the rise and fall of the ingloriously notorious beauty Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, whose sexual appetite and scandalous divorce were in the centre of social life in the United Kingdom in 1963. The libretto is full of black humour and double meanings typical for English culture. It also captures fragments from the vanishing world of English aristocracy, as it looked before World War Two, through a woman who stubbornly clings on to her life style regardless her real situation. Thanks to its remarkably diverse and matured score, in which one can find influences from cabaret and jazz music to Weill, Stravinsky and Berg, the work started Adèse’s international career and even now is one of his most often staged works. Although the opera’s premiere was received very positively, it also became notorious due to its frank detailing of the duchess’s sex life. The British radio station Classic FM even deliberated over the appropriateness of broadcasting an opera which musically depicted oral sex. Today, however, with over two hundred performances, it is considered a modern classic.
1990 – In a hotel suite in London’s West End. An Electrician and a Maid are ridiculing the absent Duchess in her apartment. She arrives to find the Electrician trying on her coat. The Duchess is outraged by their behaviour and lack of respect.
1934 – Life in London’s aristocratic circles is full of entertainment and gossip. Her marriage to and divorce from Baron Freeling made the Duchess the centre of society gossip and the focus of the attention of the tabloid press, with whole pages in magazines given over to her and musicians writing songs about her. The long-awaited Duke is about to arrive. The young woman waits impatiently for him, while her Confidante and a Lounge Lizard comment on her recent divorce.
1936 – The Maid as a Waitress is cleaning after the Duchess’ wedding and imagines a life of riches.
1953 – The Duchess assuages her loneliness and sexual appetite by seducing the hotel staff.
1953 – The Duke is with his Mistress. She tells him the Duchesses love affairs are the talk of the town.
1955 – The divorce case is nearing its end. The Duchess’ divorce has become a media sensation. Two rubberneckers are commenting on the proceedings. The judge delivers his verdict and accuses the Duchess of immoral behaviour. She leaves the court in a dignified manner.
1970 – The Duchess gives her last interview to a Journalist. She talks of her beauty secrets, of fashion and etiquette. She condemns the state of society.
1990 – The hotel manager arrives and asks the Duchess to leave the hotel as she is not paying her bills. She tries to seduce him and mollify him but without success and in the end has to leave her apartment.