Captivating, convincing, virtuosic staging: Orpha Phelan’s Powder Her Face

28 March 2016

Director Orpha Phelan’s Danish debut - Powder Her Face for Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen - won her outstanding notices, continuing a row of international successes and a particular popularity with Scandinavian audiences. Twenty-one years after the world premiere of the opera, the Irish director’s production caught critics’ attention by looking beyond the scandalousness of its story and bringing out the nuances of Thomas Adès’ work and the character of the tragic protagonist, the Duchess of Argyll.

Performances run until 16 April 2016.
You can see the trailer here.


“A modern classic. Captivating, convincing, virtuosic staging. A delight to the eyes and ears, combined with touches of true horror. ... We laugh at the Duchess but at the same time we feel sorry for her. Her attempt to fill up her life with some meaning and excitement is completely understandable through the brilliant idea of the young silent Duchess.”
Søren Kassebeer, Berlingske ******

“Precise with a perfect balance between the amusing and the tragic. Anne Margrethe Dahl is touching, vulnerable, staggering, worn out.. trying to keep up appearances in her seedy suite…Letting her daughter perform as her younger self is a brilliant idea. In Orpha’s direction the opera is as fresh as it was in 1995.”
Thomas Michelsen, Politiken ******

“The silent doppelganger is a fascinating dramatic ploy… The production at the Takkelloftet is consistently elegant, with role and scene changes taking places on an otherwise static set, the main elements of which are a double bed, a sofa, a bathtub and fixtures for sadomasochistic practices.”
Gregers Dirckinck-Holmfeld *****

“The roguish and alluring tone of the tango is reminiscent of past times and lets director Orpha Phelan present the Duchess’ life over the course of two hours and eight scenes in a light and understandable way, as it flashes in front of her eyes: mostly as comedy, but with the tragedy always present in [her] slow demise.”
Sune Anderberg, Klassisk ****

“In The Royal Theatre’s production of the opera - which probably should be advertised as “unsuitable for children” - you are not in any doubt about what is happening between the sheets, yet it is by no means vulgar. Probably because the director Orpha Phelan has managed to deliver a production with the same warmth as Adés’ music. It is advanced, packed with ideas and manages to constantly surprise.”
Michael Solgaard, Børsen

“‘Bring me wine, bring me meat’ says the naughty Duchess, whose history is now told in a beautiful and intense way at the Royal Opera. Everything is finely tuned by the Irish woman Orpha Phelan, whose productions have been staged three times in Malmö before coming across the water to Denmark. One cannot believe that the opera runs only to 16 April - it is already sold out.”
Frederiksbog Amts Avis

“A lot going on, but the clear direction puts thoughts - and appetites - at the tip… Phelan’s addition of a young duchess (Christine Dahl Helweg Larsen) is quite marvellous.”
Weekendavisen

“This is director Orpha Phelan’s first mission for the Royal Opera. In Malmö she is known for staging Hoffmann and Jenufa. Here she works with strong contrasts and cool effects, the singers have to act with great force and clear sensuality. The sex scenes are explicit, some border on pornographic, but they serve both the piece’s and Phelan’s purpose in this morality play… a cutting edge production.”
Lars-Erik Larsson, Skånska Dagbladet

“Phelan’s quite brilliant addition of the young duchess…”
Bettina Nielsen, Magasinet KBH *****

“Orpha Phelan emphasizes the Duchess’s tragic inability to understand herself by introducing a younger doppelganger   Duchess. So gullible and naive is the Duchess, even advanced in years, we see her troubled, filled with disgust….this is marvellously delivered by Phelan. She leaves the Duchess undressed on stage, covered only by a painting of her younger self. That is masterful!”
Brian Bo Jensen, Ars Artis


Photoprapher - Thomas Petri

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