Powder Her Face

Thomas Adès

June 18, 2015 at 7:30pm
June 19, 2015 at 7:30pm
June 20, 2015 at 7:30pm
Boston Conservatory Theater

Powder Her Face

Music by Thomas Adès

Text by Philip Hensher

Sung in English

Run time: two hours and twenty minutes with one twenty-minute intermission

This opera depicts violence and sexual content specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.


A collaboration between Thomas Adès and librettist Philip Hensher, Powder Her Face uses the salacious, gaudy, larger-than-life tabloid saga of Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, to explore and satirize a web of power, politics, and social mores. In the 1930s, the Duchess was one of the most photographed women in the world and a style icon for millions; by the 1960s she had gained notoriety and the moniker “the Dirty Duchess” through a series of high-profile marriages, divorces, infidelities, sexual escapades, and extravagant living habits. Best known for the explicit Polaroid photographs accompanying her divorce case from the Duke of Argyll, the Duchess captivated the public with her scandalous, flamboyant public persona. But what should we really think of the Duchess and her life and times?

“The singing is stellar”

The Boston Globe

Cast and Creative

Gil RoseGil Rose

Patricia Schuman Patricia Schuman
The Duchess

Ben Wager Ben Wager
Hotel Manager / Duke / Laundryman / Other Guest

Daniel Norman Daniel Norman
Electrician / Lounge Lizard / Waiter / Priest / Rubbernecker / Delivery Boy

Amanda Hall Amanda Hall
Maid / Confidante / Waitress / Mistress / Rubbernecker / Society Journalist

Nic Muni
Stage Director, Scenic and Lighting Designer

Amanda Mujica
Costume Designer

Rachel Padula Shufelt
Hair and Makeup Designer


A swooning accordion gives a glimpse of tango, and half a breath later a pulse of muted trumpet sparks a flash of the Jazz Age; a bumptious bass clarinet groove followed by a fizz of cymbals drives home a punch-line. From the first beat of Thomas Adès’s tragicomic opera Powder Her Face, the listener feels transported to another world. Adès’s musical language here is memory itself—fragmented, dreamlike shards of tunes that seem familiar and strange at the same time. Like all memory, Powder Her Face is episodic, exaggerated, and somehow exotic. Its lipstick is a smidge too red, its heels a bit too high, its language rather too salty for polite company. To wit, it is every bit the musical portrait of Margaret Campbell, the Duchess of Argyll.

Read the program notes


Photos and videos: Kathy Wittman / Ball Square Films.