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'Powder Her Face': A Modern Opera of Scandal & Divorce

Skylight Music Theatre

Sex, betrayal, revenge and death are cornerstones of grand opera. Tosca flings herself from the parapets, Madama Butterfly waits in vain for Pinkerton to return and Salome seduces in the dance of the seven veils. The plots of operas are full of the bleaker side of human nature.

Powder Her Face not only follows in that tradition but lays bare (quite literally in some scenes) the fascination we often have when the rich and famous get taken down a peg or two. Written in 1995 by British composer Thomas Adès, Powder Her Face is based on a true sex scandal and celebrity divorce that took place in the United Kingdom in 1963.

Margaret, the Duchess of Argyll's very public divorce in 1963 was filled with salacious photos and outrageous tales of the Dirty Duchess' affairs with famous partners in all of the tabloids. However, the opera takes a new look into the last days of the misunderstood socialite.

"(Margaret) was not a philanthropist, she was not an artist, she was not a thinker. She was not a particularly good mother," says stage director Robin Guarino. "But her tragedy, and the reason her story is valuable is because it says more about who we are as a society."

Guarino says that although this opera was set over fifty years ago, there are still many issues women - celebrities or not - are facing today that have not changed.

"We're still dealing with some of the same issues of disparity between women and mean, the fear of women's independence and sexuality, issues of privacy...and the media abuse of that privacy," says Guarino.

Powder Her Face opens at the Broadway Theatre Center this Friday night and runs through mid-February. *Advisory: The opera includes explicit language and sexual subject matter.

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Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.