Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 November 2021
When a composer refers to an early work as his ‘fountain of youth piece’, how literally should scholars take it? In the case of Thomas Adès and Philip Hensher’s chamber opera Powder Her Face (1995), I argue that the former’s turn of phrase reveals more than just fondness for a succès de scandale that later informed several instrumental adaptations. One node in a network of metaphors in Adès’s statements about his music, the ‘fountain’ image reflects his tendency to at once invoke and critique the concepts of musical surface and depth. Stylistic play and allusions to existing music constitute the Adèsian surface, organically interrelated with an ‘underground river of meaning’ – the work’s unheard yet guiding compositional and dramatic structures. I examine implications of this metaphor in Adès’s social commentary on gender, class and mortality. Camp and drag, queer performative strategies that exaggerate surface features while implying affective depth, figure prominently.