Anna Nicole Smith at the Royal Opera House, 23/02/2011
I am sitting here and thinking where do I start? Anna Nicole Smith, subject for an opera? Someone I know, stated that she is not worth writing an opera for. And he is so wrong, more wrong he can’t be!!!! It is a fantastic subject for an opera (don’t tell me Violetta Valery’s was worth it more). A character who does not have it easy, not really! A character from today, a real person. Richard Thomas’ libretto is excellent! Explicit, in your face, but certainly not vulgar. It has moments of musical theatre, but musical it is not. This is a score here to stay, order your copies now. Some very demanding singing there. OK, it is not Thomas Ades’ Ariel with the impossible stratospheric coloratura, but it is very demanding. The part of Anna Nicole is more difficult than Traviata. Lyric, dramatic, large range. The cast list is quite long and there are characters such as The Four Lap Dancers, The Meat Rack Quartet, Trucker, Larry King, etc. Eva Maria Westbroek sings the role of Anna (just back in December she sang Elisabeth in Tanhauser!!!!), Anna’s mother is Susan Bickley, her lawyer Stern is Gerald Finley and J Howard Marshall, the old billionaire is Alan Oke.
From the moment you walk in the theatre, she is everywhere. Absolutely everywhere.
Richard Jones’ production is superb! The costumes and the sets work quite well. Most of the female characters get fake boobs and so does Eva Maria Westbroek. Even a fat suite for the second half of act two. Richard directs every single character with great precision. Even the cameras that follow Anna Nicole everywhere are alive. They walk like predators, they are in every corner, every shadow. She goes to the toilet on camera, gives birth to her baby girl in front of the camera. Totally exploited, constantly manipulated.
The opera opens with the choir lined up, sopranos and altos stage left (from audience perspective), tenors and basses stage right. They all look the same! Really, like clones! (Basses are a tad too loud, sops maybe not warmed up yet). Anna is introduced. She is from this town, no one cares how it is supposed to be pronounced. She blows kisses to everyone. Her mother does not approve. She gets married and gives birth to Daniel, who grows up with his grandma.
“To cut the short story short”, Anna wants out, wants to conquer America, leaves things behind and becomes a lap dancer. Then comes Dr YES who persuades her to have size double F, double FABULOUS! Singing: “This is my mantra, this is my chant, Fight time and NATURE with a silicon IMPLANT!” Very high and quite difficult tenor part, sung quite well by Andrew Rees. From this point onwards, she suffers agonising backaches and has to take these pills so many times a day, for the rest of her life…..
Anna Nicole now is the most popular lap dancer in the club. And than comes her best client! On a chair from the gods, glides from stage left to stage right and down. They fall in love! The oil billionaire J Howard Marshall II gives her diamonds, dresses, Jimmy Choos! She wants a ranch, but there is no such thing as a free ranch. She blows him in front of everyone. They get married! Ann’s mother does not approve again! Stern appears! He knows that she may need him one day sooner or later. Alan Oke was borne to sing the part of J H Marshall II! I believe he was slightly amplified (so was everyone in the party scene at least. The guitars and drums were quite loud, as they ought to be!) Marshall could hardly walk, needed to be in a wheelchair pushed by muscly body guards. Anna is in agony! Her size Fs are killing her slowly! Daniel, now a 6 years old, brings her pills. He just does that, brings her pills, the poor kid.
The second act shows the married couple living quite a famous life. Anna sings how she loves being famous and the sound of her Choos on the red carpet. Stern comes back and completely falls for Anna. A party is thrown. Drums, guitars come on stage, large disco ball. Marshall dies! Anna’s mom tells the audience that there is no will. Marshall’s family (quartet that demonstrates some quite good ensemble singing) refuse to give Anna a dime!
Ten year court case! Curtain down with a huge fab photo of Anna Nicole! And then another curtain unrolls! Big, red, with photos of all the burgers she has eaten in these 10 years and new photo appears bit by bit! Anna is supersized! Has put on huge weight (great job by the Royal Opera’s costume dept).
Anna’s addiction to pain killers is taking its toll. Wants Stern to give her more drugs! Daniel is now a teenager who does not say a thing, just gives his mum a backrubb. They are on TV, Larry King interviews them. The stage boy, fabulous barytone Zhengzhong Zhou (Jette Parker Young Artists Programme participant) wants an autograph.
Stern is in total control over Anna’s life. The crowds seem to hate him, call him all the names of the devil. Anna announces that she is with child. Stern has an evil genius moment: ANNA WILL GIVE BIRTH LIVE ON PAY PER VIEW TV! “BE FABULOUS BABY! BE SAD! LOOK CLEVER BABY! NOW LOOK MAD! DO THE MONEY SHOT, DON’T FORGET THE MONEY SHOT! WE NEED MORE MONEY SHOTS!” The EVIL STERN utters!
She has it all for a moment! …. Daniel comes to visit! For some reason, he dies! Ann’s mother says, it is not how it happened. Does anyone know? Care?
They bring in a bag to bag the dying body of Daniel. And then, like a voice from heaven! He sings! He recounts all the names of the drugs he has taken… Who gave him the drugs????!!!! Anna is heartbroken. For a moment, I thought this is it! I am bursting into tears! The music becomes so emotional and yet no pathos, no Puccini is this. Turnage does not allow here for a big Chio Chio San moment, just a glimpse of Anna’s naked soul! One brief fortissimo top note in full Wagnerian weight almost! Heart breaking moment! And then Stern takes a picture!!!!!
Anna just can’t go on living any longer. Camera’s keep rolling, and they seem to multiply. Predators! Let the world see how Anna goes in a bag and zips herself to death! But just before that: she wants to blow… a kiss to everyone!
THE PARTY MUST END!
Here is a video of the curtain call