Review by Polly Hope
Mark-Anthony Turnage and Richard Thomas
The Royal Opera House Covent Garden London
This work could have been great, the story of a woman whose entire life was devoted to being a celebrity, or 'Sleb' as we call them in London. A very modern story of drugs, riches and rock and roll. Everyone has been hoping for something wild and wonderful for months. But alas it was not to be.
On entering the glorious gold and red auditorium of Covent Garden opera house you are faced with not the usual crimson curtain with E11R emblazoned on it but a replica in mauve that looks like nylon, and instead of our Queen's monogram you have Anna Nicole's, and where Queen Victoria's gilded head usually graces the auditorium above the proscenium arch you have Anna Nicole's. Ugh.
The audience is full of expectation; excited murmurs fill the house, this is The Must See of the season... So what do we see as the mauve nylon draws aside? A chorus line, boys on the right and girls on the left, they sing their hearts out in what is supposed to be a trailer park but not a trailer in sight. Anna Nicole appears and sings. Later on in Act 1 there is an entire scene devoted to a breast implant clinic. Yawn yawn. Anna marries an ancient billionaire and enjoys the High Life. And so on to the end with the billionaire dead as well as Anna and her son by an earlier marriage.
Where to start? I suppose themusic, as that is pretty important in opera. Frankly it goes nowhere but merrily canters on moderato and mezzo forte from the beginning to the end. With such a wonderfully dramatic story how can Turnage come up with two hours of meaningless noise? How one longs for a bar of music to carry home in one's head. Come to think of it which modern opera gives us that? My criteria for the music at new opera is would I buy the CD and listen to it at home with no visuals? The answer here is a resounding No. Antonio Pappano, my absolutely favourite conductor of opera, did his best with the fine orchestra of the opera house but even he couldn't get the music up to take off.
Then Richard Jones is normally a very fine director, I've seen stunning shows of his, Anna Nicole isn't one of them, frankly it appeared very under rehearsed, though my mole in the opera house assured me they'd been at it for months. The set designs of Miriam Buether gave no flavour of either down market white trash Texas or a glitzy rich lifestyle. Nicky Gillibrand's costumes were adequate, nothing more.
The performers: far and away the best was the billionaire, J Howard Marshall 11 as sung by Alan Oke. He was very good and you could hear what he sang even though totally geriatric. Eva-Maria Westbroek sang Anna. That's what she did, sang Anna, and without happy or sad emotion, okay she waggled her butt, enlarged her tits and grew fat but I wasn't moved. Suppose she sang all right but I was bored. The rest of the cast did their best.
Oh yes, the libretto of Richard Thomas, he of Jerry Springer the Opera fame, clever and pertinent but couldn't hear a word and the subtitles were white on pale grey so mostly invisible.
Such a great story and so much a tale of our time, that of a celebrity going nowhere with a son dying from an overdose. Such wonderful resources available, obviously lots of dosh spent, and all for very little. I wasn't moved for a moment, tried hard to mind about Anna but she failed to woo me.
And so on. It is all a very curious experience, hats off to the opera house for giving it a go but it doesn't work. Everyone is trying too hard to be meaningful and popular. Attracting a young audiences seems to be the highest ambition of our opera houses. The knee must be bent to Youth and of course if an ancient and grand opera house tries such a game they are liable to fail in spades.
Polly Hope London