Powder Her Face

ODYSSEY OPERA, Boston (2015)


photos courtesy of Ball Square Films

POWDER HER FACE by Thomas Ades & Philip Hensher
Conductor: Gil Rose
Cast: P. Schuman, B. Wager, D. Norman, A. Hall
Production: N. Muni (stage direction/scenery/projections/lighting), A. Mojica (clothes), R. Padula-Shufelt (wigs/make-up)

Powder Her Face proved the perfect capstone to Odyssey’s month-long survey of British (mostly comic) opera: biting, darkly humorous, provocative, and relevant. And the brash, acerbic libretto is matched line-for-line by Ades’ kaleidoscopic score. Rarely has such musical complexity sounded so, well, populist and accessible or served such clear, dramatic ends. The result is an opera that demands fearless singers who can act; an audacious pit band; and balanced, even-handed stage direction. Odyssey had all that and then some in their soloists;the reduced Odyssey Opera Orchestra and, especially,in stage director (and scenic, lighting and projection designer) Nic Muni. Muni’s set placed the opera’s action all within the Duchess’ hotel room. Each scene was announced with projections of newspaper headlines and photographs from the year in which the action occurred (spanning from 1934 to 1990). His thoughtful, straightforward direction of the singers kept the action moving smoothly and let the music and characters speak for themselves. Muni’s subtle lighting design added psychological and emotional depth, especially during the final couple of scenes in each act. It should perhaps come as no surprise that the finale of such an invigorating and satisfying festival as “The British Invasion” be so compelling. Still, for marriage of production concept and direction, musical execution,and visceral drama, Odyssey’s Powder Her Face was as convincing an operatic presentation as I’ve seen anywhere.”
– Jonathan Blumhofer, The Arts Fuse (June, 2015)

Odyssey Opera revived Powder Her Face in a powerful new production conceived by Nic Muni and conducted by Gil Rose. Odyssey’s month-long “British Invasion” festival often found itself exploring the winding lanes of British humor, Powder Her Face  is closing out the series on a savage, contemporary note; arresting visuals sprang from the imagination of Nic Muni, whose billing as “stage director and scenic designer” placed him squarely in charge of the mis en scene. The single set had the pale, brocaded walls of a posh London hotel room, on which Muni projected images to set other scenes (ballroom, modern apartment, courtroom) or celebrities, some of whom were the Duchess’ lovers.  Muni managed the action well onstage, keeping the sexy bits discreetly shielded yet plenty evocative. Some strong effects by Nic Muni’s arresting lighting design, such as harsh side lighting for the accused Duchess or an ominous shaft of light, added dimension to the performance.”
– David Wright, Boston Classical Review (June, 2015)

“Toward the end of Odyssey Opera’s production of “Powder Her Face,”a door opens in the wall of the aged Duchess’s hotel room as her irresistible invitation to the next world, and the sound of, yes, fishing reels in the orchestra tells us that her life is being reeled in. It’s a terrifying moment for a woman who keeps asking for more time, and just one of many riveting sequences in the final installment of Odyssey’s “British Invasion” festival of music dramas. New York City’s Opera’s 2013 production at Brooklyn Academy of Music featured, in the oral-sex scene, 25 naked men. Odyssey stage director Nic Muni takes a simpler approach.The projections–newspaper headlines and period photographs — fix the time frame and suggest the setting. The Duchess’s gray, genteel bedroom, with its writing tables and divan, does duty for every venue, even the courtroom, where the bed is ingeniously transformed into a judicial bench. The singing is stellar, if at times unavoidably strident; the differentiation of character is even better.”
– Jeffrey Gantz, The Boston Globe (June, 2015)

“It is rare that one gets to see a second production of a contemporary opera in the same city just a decade after the first. Though both productions, 2003 and 2015, followed the instructions in the score quite closely, they were nonetheless rather strikingly different in feeling and look. The new production is in the theater of the Boston Conservatory, which has a much more spacious feel and a sense of luxury suitable to the story of a woman who lived the high life before her fall. A simple touch–the fact that the back wall of the stage is set at an angle–gives a sense of spaciousness, of a large, comfortable hotel room. This room, the setting of the opening and closing scenes from 1990, also serves flexibly for the remaining scenes, set into this framework, which move chronologically between 1934 and 1970.

“Nic Muni’s stage design, projection and lighting design, and above all, stage direction brought clarity and life to the stage action, and gave the singers many splendid touches in their characterization. Three of the four singers play multiple roles across the years covered by the play; he created effective and varied ways for them to present themselves in each persona. And he added wonderful small touches of activity, enlivening the bare description in the libretto, which kept the movement from scene to scene exceptionally fluid. The superb performance of Powder Her Face at the Boston Conservatory Theater is a fitting close to Odyssey Opera’s remarkable, rich, varied schedule of English operas over the last month. It maintains the high standard of production and performance that has been evident all along and further burnishes the growing reputation of this still quite-young company.”
– Steven Ledbetter, The Boston Musical Intelligencer (June, 2015)

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