Thomas Ades is back in town, and this season he will have five different programs showing Los Angeles his range of talents as composer, pianist, and conductor. We saw the first of these yesterday: a performance of his opera “Powder Her Face” (1995), with Ades conducting, by the USC Thornton School of Music. This was fully staged, including full simulations of each of the sex scenes in the first act. A few older members of the audience debated leaving at intermission, but most stayed, finding the music to be worth being occasionally offended.
And the music has real treats to offer, particularly in the second act as the opera descends from sexual comedy and social satire to the near-tragic destruction of the woman who had become a duchess. If you listen to the music’s clips available from Amazon or iTunes, you can hear how Ades uses melodies or rhythms from popular music, supported by the Duchess’ recollection that songs were once written about her and her beauty. You can hear how much musical color Ades gets from his chamber resources. The sound clips of the interludes, however, only hint at how effectively the 24-year-old Ades developed music to move the plot from scene to scene. Yes, there are weaknesses; I’d start with the libretto. But seeing and hearing this was well worth braving the USC campus on football day and negotiating the way to Bing Theatre through the tail-gate parties. Probably we wouldn’t have done so without having heard such a good sampling of Ades in last season’s residency.
Thornton School had double-cast three of the four roles, and the singers did commendably. The tenor (the recipient of the sexual favors in the most notorious scene), appearing in all performances, seems exceptionally talented. Three musicians from the Phil supplemented the orchestral resources, as concertmaster, clarinetist, and horn, respectively.
Next week Ades will serve as pianist in a Philharmonic chamber music program at Disney. It’s a delectable program (Francaix, Stucky, Faure), and I will be out of town. Real world commitments prevented me from writing about last week’s piano recital by Aki Takahashi at REDCAT. It was a lovely concert, and the Feldman was perfection, ending with a nice recognition of James Tenney.