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A Femme Fatale Exposed: An anlylitical reading of Thomas Adès and Philip Hensher’s Powder Her Face

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DOI: 10.25236/wchss.2017.10


Chih-Yuan Mai

Corresponding Author

Chih-Yuan Mai


The paper intends to elaborate the dramatic function of the heroine in Powder Her Face, an opera by Thomas Adés and Philip Hensher. The opera features the Duchess of Argyll as its main subject and dramatises her hugely publicised sexual and social climbing escapades. The opus follows the operatic convention in featuring a femme fatale character as the centre of the piece. However, unlike the heroines in the nineteenth-century, where the female leads are eventually victimised and symbolically sacrificed to gratify their patriotic patrons, the duchess in Powder Her Face refuses to surrender her pride and leaves the stage with her dignity intact. The paper also focuses on the role of tabloid newspapers in the heroine’s downfall. The hypocritical attitude towards morality among the tabloid press has knowingly made the duchess a victim to satisfy the general public’s urge for celebrity gossips. Finally, by retaining her social status throughout her life, the duchess has achieved her personal freedom in conquering the social system. The opera, therefore, celebrates femininity and not penalises its female character.


Feminism, Opera, Libretto, Twentieth-century drama, British class system.