Monday, June 10, 2013


Patricia Schuman as the Duchess of Argyll
There’s a new gal in town; the Duchess of Argyll has her day in Opera Philadelphia’s POWDER HER FACE which portrays the scandalous life of the beautiful Margaret Campbell, who is best known as the "Dirty Duchess." Composer, Thomas Ades' opera has been performed all around the world but Opera Philadelphia gives it a powerful punch performance that is riveting with sexual innuendo. This is a true-to-life story about a woman born into society, a wealthy vain party girl who apparently had a voracious sexual appetite that could only be satisfied with a number of men. Yet on the stage of life, as a young woman. the Duchess was photographed, written about, flattered, admired and included in the Ten Best-Dressed Women in the world, and mentioned by Cole Porter in the words of his hit song ‘You’re the Top.’ This is an opera, not to be missed. The remaining performances of Powder Her Face are June 12, 14 & 16 matinee. Here’s the scoop!!!
THE NOTORIOUS SOCIALITE No doubt, an opera for mature audiences, the most explicit scenes are handled with clever theatrical ploys that suggest rather than show the explicit insatiable sexual acts of the notorious British Socialite. Much to the credit of the director and scenic designer props hide one of the sex acts behind a lush lipstick red sofa, but it is obvious to the audience what is going on. The Duchess may have bedded in real life as many as eighty-eight men; royals, politicians and celebrities but in her promiscuous desires she even stoops to conquer the hotel porter.

The Duchess in the Luxury Hotel
STAR PERFORMANCE Patricia Schuman, who portrays Margaret, Duchess of Argyll manages to keep a strict upper crust appearance with such a lady-like persona that is challenging to think that the Duchess could be such a flagrant provocateur. Ms. Schuman is a convincing Duchess. Early on she said, “I could not resist the opportunity to take on a role as musically and dramatically lush as The Dirty Duchess. To this end, Ms. Schuman carries herself with regal dignity; throughout she is fully in command of the stage, while the rich tones of her soprano portray the fact that she is every bit the diva of the opera. She is dressed impeccably in couture-like ensembles or in bedroom scenes clad in shimmering white silk robes or eye-crunching pink peignoirs ready for action in the bedroom.

THE LIBRETTO Much of his credit Philip Hensher’s libretto is based on the notorious life of Britain’s so-called “Dirty Duchess.” The opera unravels the Duchess’ exploits to her final demise, forgotten, unloved and unable to pay her bills, living alone in a luxury hotel she cannot afford. The Duchess is best remembered for her divorce case against her second husband, the 11th Duke of Argyll, which featured salacious photographs and scandalous stories about her exploits which plays out at the end of the opera. Ben Wager’s Duke, Hotel Manger and Magistrate roles are play acted and sung most engagingly, particularly in the bedroom scene with his mistress, where his convincing portrayal of the Duke and his rich baritone take total command of the situation . As for Christopher Tiesi and Ashley Emerson their multi-tasking roles are pure genius with energetic dexterity and utterly convincing character changes.

At the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, performed in English with English subtitles. or 215.893.1018.

Polly Guerin Author: 7th Book: Cooper-Hewitt Dynasty of New York (History Press 2012)                        Board Member: Giulio Gari Opera Foundation

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