West Edge Opera's Powder Her Face
July 31, 2016
* Notes *
West Edge Opera's 2016 festival continued at the Oakland 16th Street train station Sunday afternoon with Powder Her Face. Maestra Mary Chun conducted Thomas Adès' chamber opera with precision. The production from Elkhanah Pulitzer is characteristically racy but somehow does show a little compassion for these very unlikable characters as well.
The music by Adès is a study in extremes, lots of highs and lows in the vocal lines. It seems very punishing and complicated. At times I found it pretty harsh, but the four singers were massively impressive, and all sounded and looked great. No one was drowned out by the orchestration, even though the musicians were loud, perhaps because we were on the same level as the orchestra and the acoustic of the station is not particularly suited to opera.
Before the performance it was announced that baritone Hadleigh Adams had a tickle in his throat, but it was hard to tell, his singing was strong. He had lots and lots of very low notes and rather high ones, and somehow reached them all with seeming ease. Soprano Emma McNairy also sang with power and nonchalance, hitting all sorts of notes in her upper register without simply sounding like a squeak toy.
Soprano Laura Bohn was a fine Duchess, terribly heartless in the beginning and startlingly vulnerable in the end. I was not expecting to feel sorry for her, but somehow the music and production came together nicely here.
Pulitzer's staging involves nudity, pink lighting, and wigs changed on stage, all elements we saw in her Lulu last year. She even wore Emma McNairy's platinum bob during the curtain call. But it all fit, and it is even clear that the composer himself was influenced by Berg, so it did make a certain sense. The set is simply a hotel room (Number 69, no less) with a sandbank on one side of the floor next to the bed. At one point sand falls onto the stage, the sands of time, doubtless, and the Duchess grasps at it helplessly, certainly the most striking image in the production.
* Tattling *
I was surrounded by opera lovers that were all fairly quiet, though the man to my left might have fallen asleep for a few minutes during the middle of the first act.