Review Roundup: ANNA NICOLE Opera

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A new opera based on the life of tabloid queen Anna Nicole Smith opened at Royal Opera House yesterday,February 17. The show, entitled ANNA NICOLE is described on their website as "a celebrity story of our times that includes extreme language, drug abuse and sexual content," and imposed a minimum age of 16. This new opera is provocative in its themes, exciting in its bravura style and thrilling with its sheer contemporary nerve," it added in language normally reserved for reality TV. Anna Nicole Smith's life made the news -- you can bet this world premiere will too."

The title role is played by soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek in the Mark-Anthony Turnage piece. The production includes direction by Richard Jones and a libretto by Richard Thomas, who also penned 2005's Jerry Springer: THE OPERA.


Anthony Tommasini, NY Times: Ideally, opera is supposed to be the ultimate collaborative art form, and “Anna Nicole” met that ideal. At 50, Mr. Turnage, whose modernist music is brashly accessible and run through with jazz, has written a pulsing, wild and, when called for, yearning score.

Ms. Westbroek has essentially a dramatic soprano voice. Indeed, she is scheduled to sing Sieglinde in the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Wagner’s “Walküre” this spring, her company debut.

Mark Swed, LA Times: The performances were very good. Westbroek’s Wagnerian chops served her well, her ill-fitting mammary prosthesis not so well. Baritone Gerald Finley, the intriguingly ever-smiling Stern, kept us guessing whether he was shark or truly devoted to Anna.

Michael White, The Telegraph: Did I have a good time? Yes – not least because resistance withers in the face of lines like ‘No one vomits on Dolly Parton’s shoes’, an observation that will stay with me. But when the audience broke into tumultuous applause at the end – and no doubt about it, the response was good – I found it hard to be quite so ecstatic. Anna Nicole is a colourful and naughty novelty with the appeal of a seaside postcard. But from a major, international, and publicly funded opera house, you’re entitled to hope for more than that.

George Hall, The Stage: If only the material itself were stronger. Thomas’s text, though, is banal, offering the characters no more than a cartoonish one-dimensionality and presenting the action in a sequence of cliches. At his best, a major talent, Turnage here seems content to set the libretto without giving it the resonance or ambiguity that might have humanised it or deepened its moral outlook. 

Keith McDonnell, Whatsonstage: he Royal Opera certainly gave Anna Nicole the best send-off possible and I found much of it laugh out loud funny but I don’t believe its operatic credentials are as strong as everyone was expecting, which is a pity, but six sold out performances can’t be bad.

Jessica Duchen, The Independent: Shocking it isn't; stunning it is. No, you don't see the oral sex scene ("There ain't no such thing as a free ranch"...), but you do see the humanity. Eva-Maria Westbroek is a startlingly innocent Anna, caught in demonic forces (Gerald Finley as lawyer Stern) beyond her control.

Andrew Clark, Financial Times: “Anna Nicole” is hamstrung from the start by Richard Thomas’s libretto – catchy, trite and intermittently funny, but so keen to flaunt bad language that you wonder who Thomas (of “Jerry Springer: The Opera” fame) might be trying to shock, other than UK tabloid editors and American conservatives.




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