Bed-Bouncing Opera

Thomas Adès's Powder Her Face at New York City Opera tells "dirty duchess" stories


Powder Her Face
By Thomas Adès, libretto by Philip Hensher
New York City Opera @ BAM Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue

Scheib's staging, recalling repeated-motion works by Richard Foreman and others, populated Marsha Ginsberg's panoramic set (painted an eerie institutional green) with additional silent figures, including the gymnast Jon Morris as a mute and highly flexible waiter. At one point, a covey of naked men emerged from all directions, a visual summation of the duchess's promiscuity. But their seemingly aimless drift across the stage only reinforced the opera's overall aimlessness. The wide range of visual tactics Scheib employed included film sequences and live-action video; he keyed the characters' gestures, sharply and sensitively, to shifts in the music. The production looked, and felt, like a strong overall statement; only the underlying work's weakness made the statement lack weight.

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This review provides so much valuable insight -- and it's always refreshing to recall that Michael Feingold is as erudite on the subject of opera as he is on theater (and everything else). Thank you, Voice, for sending him to cover this production.