Thomas Adès (1971)

Powder Her Face (1994)

chamber opera in two acts and eight scenes for four singers and fifteen instrumentalists

stage work

  • General information
    • Composition date: 1994
    • Duration: 1 h 55 mn
    • Publisher: Faber Music, Londres
    • Opus: 14
    • Commission: Almeida Opera
    • Libretto (details, author):

      Philip Hensher

Detailed formation
  • soloists: 2 solo sopranos [la duchesse, la domestique] , solo tenor [l'électricien] , solo bass voice [le gérant de l'hotel]
  • 3 clarinets (also 2 bass clarinets [II et III] , 1 contrabass clarinet [III + sifflet] , 1 soprano saxophone [I] , 1 alto saxophone [II] , 1 bass saxophone [I] ), horn, trumpet, trombone, percussionist, harp, piano, accordion, violin, second violin, viola, cello, double bass

Premiere information

  • Date: 1 July 1995

    Royaume-Uni, Cheltenham Festival, Everyman Theatre


    Valdine Anderson : soprano, Roger Bryson : basse, Jill Gomez : soprano, Niall Morris : ténor, ensemble de l'Almeida Opera, direction : Brad Cohen

Table of contents

  • Overture
  • Oo Aa! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha
  • I See. This Is What Is Has Come To
  • Take It From Me
  • Interlude
  • Of Course She's Done Well
  • I Could Never Grow Bored Of Dukedoms
  • I Hear Him Coming (Pantomine)
  • Interlude
  • Fancy, Fancy Being Rich
  • Did She
  • ...Of Course She Did
  • Order. Silence
  • But Now I Have Heard Something New
  • Did You Hear
  • What He Said
  • So That Is All
  • Interlude
  • I'd Like To Make One Thing Entirely Clear
  • Ah! None Left
  • Interlude/Fifty-Eight, Seventy-Nine
  • Agh
  • Who Are You

Program note


Scene 1

The Duchess surprises a Maid and an Electrician in the act of ridiculing her in her suite on the top floor of a leading hotel in London’s West End. Owing to their negligence, Her Grace’s coat is soiled. As she changes, all three express unanimous admiration for Her Grace’s clothes and scent, and varying opinions about Her Grace’s circumstances. An entrance ensues.

Scene 2

The Duke is expected at a large country house. Former ‘Debutante of the Year’
Mrs Freeling awaits him eagerly as her divorce is discussed by a Confidante and a Lounge Lizard. His Grace’s recent affairs are a topic. A song is given and His Grace arrives.

Scene 3

Fashionable interest in Mrs Freeling’s wedding to His Grace is in no way affected by her status as a famous divorcee, a magnificent reception is thrown. Behind the scenes, a thoughtful Waitress prepares elaborate dishes.

Scene 4

On one of her frequent visits to the capital, Her Grace relaxes in her room in one of London’s foremost hotels. She telephones for Room Service and gives the Waiter the friendly welcome which has earned her such popularity among the staff.

Scene 5

Meanwhile, His Grace entertains a friend at home after returning from a party. Her Grace is discussed and information revealed.

Scene 6

As the historic divorce trial nears its close and the Judge’s concluding remarks are awaited, Rubberneckers discuss the sensational aspect by which they have been attracted. A judgement is given and Her Grace reacts.

Scene 7

Her Grace grants an interview at her lovely home. She offers insights from her experience of health, beauty, entertaining, millinery and English society.

Scene 8

Her Grace receives two visits from the Manager of the prestigious London hotel which has been her home for over a decade. They finalise details of her forthcoming departure, and in the interim, she reflects. She vacates the suite, which is then made ready for the next occupant.