Thursday, February 17, 2011

Anna Nicole: The Opera

The Royal Opera’s Anna Nicole premiered last night, Feb 17 at London’s Royal Opera House. Booked for six performances, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones performed as part of an “onstage” jazz trio.

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Composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage with libretto by Richard Thomas, the prospect of an opera on the life of Anna Nicole Smith seems unlikely. It is not, however, unheard of for an opera to be based on a real life person. Mozart’s Don Giovanni has a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, who as an ordained priest caroused with legendary womanizer Giacomo Casanova. The libretto for Don Giovanni was partially based on the life of Casanova.

The recent movie I, Don Giovanni was partially based on this connection.

One-hundred and fifteen years later composer Francesco Cilea with a libretto by Arturo Colautti premiered Adriana Lecouvreur about 18th century French actress Adriana Lecouvreur. A plot of love, anger, intrigue, greed and finally, the heroines death, Adriana Lecouvreur, and Don Giovanni, are stories similar to the more modern, but no less operatic Anna Nicole Smith’s.

“The plot is of a complexity that I think is dangerous in a opera,” novelist and opera aficionado/librettist Robertson Davies once wrote about John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles. It’s true that keeping an opera’s theme simple allows the composer to let the music shine through. And all great operas are great musical works first and foremost. Anna Nicole Smith’s life is suitable to opera, but was justice done to it through music?

The reviews are now coming in, and the verdict is unclear. The Independent notes Anna Nicole is:
often ironical beyond irony itself and delighting in the music of its own wordplay - would carry the day even if the score weren't as terrific as it is…

Sky News is less impressed, however:
Although the singing is fantastic and the Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is excellent as the story's buxom, tragic heroine, the music is less memorable.

And while Eva-Marie Westbroek gets accolades in the bulk of the reviews, Zeppelin fans may be sure, the bassist in the jazz trio was pretty good as well:
The production included an utterly believable re-creation of a lap-dancing club set in Smith's native Texas and a riotous, cocaine-fueled onstage party that featured a guest appearance by Led Zeppelin bass guitarist John Paul Jones, a long-time friend of the composer.

Jones turning up as part of a jazz trio gives only a small clue to the depth and breadth of Turnage's score for the 80-piece ROH orchestra, under the baton of conductor Antonio Pappano.

John Paul Jones on bass, and a big brassy blonde singer. Sounds like my kind of opera.

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All pictures courtesy of Inter Mezzo

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