Blame it on the elevator shaft. London socialite Margaret Campbell, the Duchess of Argyll, was, politely put, a big slut. But it wasn’t her fault; the Duchess had fallen down an elevator shaft and apparently suffered an injury to the part of her brain that regulates impulse control and inhibition. Before the fall, she was just slightly hoochie; after the fall, a great big slut. Opera Vista’s bold new production, Powder Her Face, is based on the Duchess of Argyll’s headline-grabbing life.
The show, written by composer Thomas Adès and librettist Philip Hensher in 1995, includes her notorious behavior during her marriage, subsequent scandalous divorce in 1963 and, finally, slow slide into poverty and obscurity. The opera is seen by many as being almost as scandalous as the Duchess herself. One scene shows the Duchess having oral sex with one of her many lovers; in another, there are hints that she’s mentally ill.
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Opera Vista Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman says the company didn’t want to focus on the Duchess’s sexual escapades, but rather her dramatic life story. “Most productions I’ve seen are extremely racy, and what we wanted to do was to look at the Duchess as human figure,” Subbaraman told us. “We pulled back from focusing on the scandal of the show, which is hard because the show does have promiscuity and scandalous behavior at its core. I think we show it in a way that’s much more elegant, and much more suited to what actually happened to the Duchess.” 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-581-4442 or visit www.operavista.org. $20 to $40.
Nov. 10-11, 2011