New York City Opera opens its spring 2013 season with a new production of Powder Her Face (1995), composed by Thomas Adès (b.1971) to a libretto by Philip Hensher (b. 1965). The world premiere of the opera, inspired by a sex scandal that rocked Britain in the early 60s, not only caused controversy, with its on-stage depiction of fellatio, but also propelled Adès to international recognition.
Conducted by Jonathan Stockhammer, whose artistry is as musically omnivorous as Adès' score, and directed by Jay Scheib, who is known for technologically rich theatrical innovation, the opera returns to BAM, where it was semi-staged at the Majestic (now Harvey) Theater as part of the 1998 Next Wave Festival.
Performances will take place tonight, February 15-23 at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House (30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn): February 15, 21 and 23 at 7:30 P.M., and February 17 at 1:30 P.M. Tickets, $25-$250, can be purchased at 718.636.4100 or BAM.org. Please note: The production contains nudity and scenes of a sexual nature; parental discretion is advised.
Powder Her Face centers around a series of Polaroids presented during the 1963 divorce case against Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll. In the pictures, Campbell, dubbed the "Dirty Duchess" for the eighty-eight men with whom she allegedly had extramarital affairs, appeared nude, wearing only her signature pearl necklace. Some of the photos showed the Duchess performing oral sex on a man whose face was not visible. He was crowned "the headless man" by the tabloids, and his identity was the subject of much speculation.
Through the prism of Campbell's life story, Powder Her Face explores the intersection of gender, politics and power. Scheib has said, "Powder Her Face, with its high-speed turns, feels on the surface like a Don Giovanni-but this one's about a woman who does what she wants how and when she wants. Adès has singlehandedly resurrected the reputation of one Dirty Duchess, as dreamt by Jean Genet-and the music is absolutely thrilling."
With the exception of the "sterling tenor" (American Theater) William Ferguson, whose role as the Electrician follows many others with New York City Opera, the entire Powder Her Face cast and creative team-including Stockhammer and Scheib-is new to the Company. British mezzo-soprano Allison Cook, who recently garnered acclaim for her Teatro alla Scala debut in the world premiere of Luca Francesconi's Quartett (with subsequent performances at the Wiener Festwochen), will be introduced to American audiences as the Duchess. As the Maid, coloratura soprano Nili Riemer will make her Company debut, having won praise as the Queen of the Night in multiple European and American productions of Die Zauberflöte, among other roles. Matt Boehler, whom The New York Times has deemed "a bass with an attitude and the goods to back it up," and whom The Washington Post hailed as "a supple, clarion bass," makes his Company debut in the role of the Hotel Manager.
Several favorites of the downtown theater scene will have non-singing roles, including Jon Morris (Fuerza Bruta, Scheib's World of Wires) as the Waiter and Kaneza Schaal (The Wooster Group, Elevator Repair Service) as the Nurse. The cast also features a non-singing chorus of thirty nude men.
For Scheib, Powder Her Face follows World of Wires (based on Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Welt am Draht), which premiered at The Kitchen in January 2012, won Scheib a 2012 Obie Award for Direction, earned rave reviews and has toured internationally. The director applies his signature multimedia approach to Adès' opera, with sets by Marsha Ginsberg, costumes by Alba Clemente, lighting by Thomas Dunn and projection design by Joshua Higgason.
Powder Her Face is the third production in a relationship New York City Opera has forged with BAM, which will serve as the Company's Brooklyn base through the 2014-15 season. As New York City Opera continues to match special projects with suitable venues across the city, BAM and New York City Center, the Company's original home, will serve as its primary theaters. The superior acoustics of BAM's 2,100-seat, 19th-century-style Howard Gilman Opera House enhances the artistry of singers and musicians, and the venue's convenient Fort Greene location offers a warm welcome to the New York City Opera's loyal audiences while also helping to attract a new, diverse and enthusiastic fan base.
Powder Her Face Personnel
* Denotes New York City Opera debut
Allison Cook* (Duchess)
Nili Riemer* (Maid)
William Ferguson (Electrician)
Matt Boehler* (Hotel Manager)
Jon Morris* (Waiter)
Kaneza Schaal* (Nurse)
Jonathan Stockhammer* (Conductor)
Jay Scheib* (Production Director)
Marsha Ginsberg* (Set Designer)
Alba Clemente* (Costume Designer)
Thomas Dunn* (Lighting Designer)
Joshua Higgason* (Projection Designer)
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Jonathan Stockhammer (Conductor)
Powder Her Face marks the New York City Opera debut of the American-born, Berlin-based conductor Jonathan Stockhammer.
He has worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Oslo Philharmonic, NDR Symphony Orchestra Hamburg, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and has appeared at the Salzburg Festival, Donaueschingen Music Days and Wien Modern.
Mr. Stockhammer began the 2012-13 season with his Bamberg Symphony debut concert, conducting works by Mozart and Rihm. With the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie, he will also make his debut at Alte Oper Frankfurt. Other highlights of the season are re-invitations to the Oslo Philharmonic, Salzburg Biennial, Radio Kamer Filharmonie, Remix Ensemble Porto and Schwetzinger Festspiele.
Opera is central to Jonathan Stockhammer's work. The operas he has conducted, including Weill's Die Dreigroschenoper, Zemlinsky's Eine florentinische Tragödie, Sciarrino's Luci mie traditrici and Damon Albarn's Monkey: Journey to the West, identify him as a conductor who welcomes and masters the difficulties presented by complex scores and special, cross-categorical productions. Since 1998, he has been a regular guest at the Opéra de Lyon, where he has since conducted the successful French premiere of Dusapin's Faustus, the Last Night. In the 2010-11 season he gave his successful debut with the Radio Kamer Filharmonie at the Concertgebouw Amsterdam with Faustus. After premiering Wolfgang Rihm's Proserpina in May 2009 with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, he returned to conduct the orchestra at Strasburg's Festival Musica in September 2009 with another Rihm work, Deus Passus. In 2010, he conducted the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in a production of Sondheim's A Little Night Music at the Théâtre du Châtelet Paris. In fall 2011, he directed the Swiss premiere of Zwicker's Der Tod und das Mädchen at the Theater St. Gallen.
Aside from conducting classical and romantic masterpieces and classical contemporary works, Mr. Stockhammer enjoys delving into music that blurs the boundaries between classical, rock, pop and hip-hop. His CD Greggery Peccary & Other Persuasions with Ensemble Modern, featuring works by Frank Zappa, was released in 2003 on RCA and won an Echo Klassik Award. He also recorded a new soundtrack to Sergei Eisenstein's 1925 film The Battleship Potemkin, composed and performed by the Pet Shop Boys. The live recording of The New Crystal Silence that he conducted with Chick Corea, Gary Burton and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra won a Grammy Award in 2009. His collaboration with spoken word artist Saul Williams on Said the Shotgun to the Head, featuring music composed by Thomas Kessler, has also been especially successful. To date, he has conducted the work with the WDR and SWR Symphony Orchestras and the Oslo Philharmonic. In March 2012, he conducted Heiner Goebbels' Surrogate Cities at the South Bank Centre in London.
Jonathan Stockhammer first studied Chinese and political science before moving on to studies in composition and conducting in his hometown of Los Angeles. During his studies, he filled in for a series of concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, after which he was asked to become chief conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen's assistant. After completing his studies, Jonathan Stockhammer moved to Germany where he formed close relationships with well-known European ensembles like Ensemble Modern, musikFabrik and Ensemble Resonanz.
Jay Scheib (Director)
Jay Scheib, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and a 2012 Obie Award recipient for Best Direction, is a director, designer and author of plays, operas and live art events. Internationally known for works of daring physicality, genre-defying performances and deep integration of new technologies, Scheib's 2012 productions include World of Wires, which premiered at The Kitchen, followed by performances at Festival d'Automne in Paris and the Institute of Contemporary Art Boston; a collaboration with choreographer Yin Mei and the Hong Kong Dance Company titled The Seven Sages, in Hong Kong; and Fassbinder's controversial play Garbage, the City and Death in Oslo, Norway. Upcoming productions include a live drive-in movie version of Chekhov's Platonov at La Jolla Playhouse in the fall of this year.
Past productions include Bellona, Destroyer of Cities, presented at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and Maison des Arts in Créteil, France after its New York run at The Kitchen; Evan Ziporyn's A House in Bali, presented as part of BAM's Next Wave Festival 2010; a new staging of Beethoven's Fidelio at the Saarländisches Staatstheater in Saarbrücken; Brecht's Puntila und sein Knecht Matti at Theater Augsburg; This Place is a Desert (ICA/Boston, Under the Radar Festival/Public Theater); and Addicted to Bad Ideas, Peter Lorre's 20th Century, which played at Spoleto Festival, Urban Festival Helsinki, Luminato Festival Toronto, Peak Performances Montclair, Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and more.
Other works include the world premiere of Irene Popovic's opera Mozart Luster Lustik at the Sava Center, Belgrade, Serbia; Lothar Trolle's Ein Vormittag in der Freitheit at the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin; a new staging of the Novoflot science fiction opera saga Kommander Kobayashi in Saarbruecken, Germany; and Untitled Mars (This Title May Change) at Performance Space 122 in New York and the State Theater in Budapest, Hungary.
Named Best New York Theater Director by Time Out New York in 2009, and named by American Theater Magazine as one of the 25 theater artists who will shape the next 25 years of American theater, Scheib is a recipient of The Edgerton Award, The Richard Sherwood Award and the NEA/TCG Program for Directors. He is a frequent guest professor at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria and at the Norwegian Theater Academy and is Professor for Music and Theater Arts at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Allison Cook (Duchess)
Mezzo-soprano Allison Cook is increasingly in demand for her extraordinary versatility. Recent highlights include her critically lauded debut at Teatro alla Scala as the Marquise de Merteuil in the world premiere of Luca Francesconi's Quartett (with subsequent performances at the Wiener Festwochen) as well as Mme de Warens in the world premiere of Philippe Fenelon's JJR (Citoyen de Genève) for the Grand Théâtre de Genève, Brangäne (Tristan und Isolde) at the Prague State Opera and Adalgisa (Norma) on tour in the Netherlands. She also featured in two other recent world premieres: Mark Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole (in the role of Blossom) and Michael Berkeley/Ian McEwan's For You, both at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Upcoming engagements include further performances of Quartett at the Cité de la Musique, the Holland Festival, Strasbourg Festival, Casa da Musica (Porto) and the Gulbenkian (Lisbon); Britten's Phaedra at the Barbican; and Margret (Wozzeck) at Covent Garden.
She is a former member of Les Jeunes Voix du Rhin at the Opéra National du Rhin in Strasbourg and the Centre de Formation Lyrique at the Opéra National de Paris. Her European success has been built on performances such as Der Komponist (Ariadne auf Naxos) in Strasbourg; Der Trommler (Der Kaiser von Atlantis) for l'Opéra National de Lorraine in Nancy and at the Cité de la Musique; Valetto and Fortuna (L'Incoronazione di Poppea) with Les Musiciens du Louvre at the Wiener Festwochen and Festival Aix-en-Provence as well as the title role in the same opera in Dublin; Baba the Turk and Mother Goose (The Rake's Progress) for Théâtre et Musique in Paris; and the world premiere of Peter Eötvös's Le Balcon in Aix-en-Provence.
Her ongoing association with the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden has to date also included the title role in John Browne's Babette's Feast and Kate Julian (Owen Wingrave) as well as covering Countess Geschwitz (Lulu) and Ariadne in the world premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's The Minotaur. For Glyndebourne on Tour she has performed Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus) and the title role in Carmen. She also sang the title role in La Cenerentola at the Shanghai International Arts Centre.
Allison Cook's concert performances range from the BBC Proms (Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmelites and Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music) to Schoenberg's Das Buch der hängenden Gärten at the Louvre, with orchestras such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the Münchner Symphoniker. Conductors and stage directors she has worked with include Sir Antonio Pappano, Sir Andrew Davis, James Conlon, Louis Langrée, Stéphane Denève, Mark Minkowski, Susanna Mälkki, Robin Ticciati, Richard Jones, Robert Carsen, Stephen Langridge, Àlex Ollé (La Fura dels Baus), Stephen Lawless, Marthe Keller and Irina Brook.
Nili Riemer (Maid)
Lauded by the Cleveland Plain-Dealer for her "graceful agility, rising to shining high notes" and her use of "coloratura writing as an extension of character," Nili Riemer makes her New York City Opera debut in Powder Her Face.
She recently returned to Oper Leipzig as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. Last season, she returned to the role of Königin der Nacht in Die Zauberflöte and the title role in Arriaga's Die arabische Prinzessin with Oper Leipzig, and made debuts with the Lyric Opera of Chicago as Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos and the Saarländisches Staatstheater Saarbrücken as the stratospheric Sehr hoher Sopran in Rihm's Eroberung von Mexico.
The soprano's recent performances include Königin der Nacht in Die Zauberflöte in a new production with Opera Royal de Wallonie, at the Staatstheater Wiesbaden, the Minnesota Orchestra with Osmo Vänskä conducting, and in a return to Stadttheater Heidelberg; the Controller in Dove's Flight with Austin Lyric Opera, where she previously sang Princess Laoula in L'Étoile; and a return to the Lyric Opera of Kansas City for Marie in La fille du régiment. She has enjoyed a strong relationship with Minnesota Opera as a former Resident Artist and has joined the company for Olympia in Les contes d'Hoffmann, Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, the title role of Lakmé, and Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro.
Her other recent performances include the title role of Lucia di Lammermoor in the opera's originally composed higher keys with Cleveland Opera; her European debut singing Cunegonde in Candide with the Kammerchor-Steffisburg in Thun, Switzerland; Blondchen in Die Entführung aus dem Serail with Anchorage Opera; Olymphia in Les contes d'Hoffmann with Des Moines Metro Opera; Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance with Lyric Opera of Kansas City; Despina in Così fan tutte with Chautauqua Opera; and Clorinda in La cenerentola with Florida Grand Opera.
The soprano has joined Tri-Cities Opera for leading roles including Rosina in IL Barbiere di Siviglia, Königin der Nacht in Die Zauberflöte, the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor, Marie in La fille du régiment, and Monica in The Medium. As a former member of Chautauqua Opera's Studio Artist Program, she sang Suor Genovieffa in Suor Angelica and Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro. Other roles to the soprano's credit include Mademoiselle Silverpeal and Madame Goldentrill in Mozart's Impresario at the International Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv, and Le Feu and Le Rossignol in L'enfant et les sortilèges at the Lowell House Operain Boston.
Also a versatile concert performer, Ms. Riemer joined Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for Donald Sur's Slavery Documents in a Martin Luther King Day concert broadcast on National Public Radio and the Brooklyn Philharmonic for a concert featuring Zerbinetta's showstopper aria from Ariadne auf Naxos. She has sung Barber's Prayers of Kierkegaard and Bernstein's Chichester Psalms with the Binghamton Philharmonic, and Handel's Messiah with the New Choral Society. She joined the Binghamton University Concert Orchestra as a guest artist for Orff's Carmina Burana and the Tufts University Concert Orchestra for Poulenc's Gloria, and has performed Brubeck's Gates of Justice at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Ms. Riemer has received a number of awards from the Gerda Lissner Foundation, Shoshana Foundation, Career Bridges, Schubert Club Competition, Altamura-Caruso International Vocal Competition, Queens Opera Competition and Nebraska district Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. Born in Israel, the soprano holds a Master of Music degree from the State University of New York-Binghamton and is a graduate of the dual-degree program at New England Conservatory of Music and Tufts University, where she earned a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Arts with a concentration in International Relations.
William Ferguson (Electrician)
Acclaimed for his versatility in both opera and concert, tenor William Fergusonmade his debut with the Santa Fe Opera in 2006 as Caliban in the North American premiere of Thomas Adès' The Tempest, and in 2005 he bowed in Sydney with Opera Australia, singing Truffaldino in a new production of The Love for Three Oranges directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Richard Hickox (subsequently released on compact disc under the Chandos label). The same year, Ferguson joined the roster of The Metropolitan Opera, where he has performed Beppe in Pagliacci as well as roles in Le Nozze di Figaro and The Magic Flute (under the baton of James Levine). With New York City Opera, his performances have included the title role in Candide, Nanki-Poo in The Mikado, the Funeral Director in A Quiet Place, and two appearances as Hérisson de Porc-Épic in L'Étoile, amongmany others.
Additional credits include Andres in Wozzeck with Opera Festival of New Jersey, Ferrando in Così fan tutte at The Aspen Music Festival, Carl in Bitter Sweet for the Bard SummerScape Festival, Pang in Turandot with Opera Company of Philadelphia, Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance with both Virginia Opera and Opera Omaha, the Sailor in Dido and Aeneas with Gotham Chamber Opera, the title role in Albert Herring directed by Lotfi Mansouri at The Music Academy of the West, Gonzalve in L'Heure Espagnole and Fenton in Falstaff at the Tanglewood Music Center (both with Seiji Ozawa), and Peter Quint in The Turn of the Screw at the Chautauqua Institution. Mr. Ferguson has also performed with Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall on several occasions, including as Nick in La Fanciulla del West and as Laërte in Mignon. A compelling interpreter of new music, Mr. Ferguson sang Bentley Drummle in Dominick Argento's Miss Havisham's Fire at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and performed in the world premiere productions of Anthony Davis' Wakonda's Dream with Opera Omaha, Robert Aldridge's Elmer Gantry with Peak Performances at Montclair, and operas by Lee Hoiby and Harold Farberman. While in St. Louis, Mr. Ferguson sang the role of Hippolyte in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie as a last minute replacement, earning a review in Opera News stating that he sang "with grace, and striking self-possession." He holds both Bachelor's and Master's of Music degrees from The Juilliard School and is a native of Richmond, Virginia.
A passionate concert and recital performer, Mr. Ferguson has appeared with The American Symphony Orchestra, BBC Orchestra (London), Boston Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (England), Handel and Haydn Society, Houston Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra, a New York, National Symphony Orchestra, New Jersey Symphony Orchestra, Oratorio Society of New York, Orchestra of St. Luke's, and Radio Filharmonisch Orkest (Netherlands), as well as the local symphony orchestras of Bellingham, New Haven, Omaha, Richmond, Santa Barbara, Wheeling and Winston-Salem. Mr. Ferguson appears as Brian on the recording and DVD of Not The Messiah, a comic oratorio based on Monty Python's film Life of Brian, recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall in London. His repertoire ranges from that of Baroque masters to the difficult cycles of Schubert, Schumann, Janá?ek and Rorem-showcasing him across the United States in chamber programs and recitals for the 92nd Street Y, Bard Music Festival, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Marlboro Music Festival and Young Concert Artists, among others. Mr. Ferguson has performed extensively with The Marilyn Horne Foundation, Five Borough Music Festival, as well as The New York Festival of Song.