Cher Public

Blonde item

“It’s just that it seems rather perverse to have cast such opulent voices and then given them not much to sing…. the role of Anna Nicole would not stretch Danielle de Niese.”

Loyal parterrian Jondrytay (not pictured) looked in on the Royal Opera’s Anna Nicole and shared this thoughts on his blog Not So Wunderbar.

  • ianw2

    We’re never simply told a story- we’re told we’re being told a story, and then, we’re told what it meant. But, crucially, we already know the story and we already know its implications.

    This needs to be printed up on a card and handed to every single artistic team currently considering a contemporary subject.

    I hope that some of the regular Paterriat (they know who they are) will chime in with their own reviews, considering the current trend of wildly differing opinions.

    • Indiana Loiterer III

      This needs to be printed up on a card and handed to every single artistic team currently considering a contemporary subject.

      Couldn’t you say the same of any well-known subject (e.g. officially canonical Great Books, which seem to be the main alternative to contemporary subjects nowadays)?

      • ianw2

        That is also a very good point (and Great American Films, which are replacing Great Books as the safe subject of choice). I regularly rant about the American trend of Cliff’s Notes operas to anyone who will listen (as I officially turn into an Opera Bore).

        • Indiana Loiterer III

          The advantage of a well-known subject (book, film, news item, whatever) is that one doesn’t have to spend too much time on exposition, since the audience going in knows something of what’s about to go on. (And we all know how hard it is to understand words when they’re being sung even in the best of circumstances.) But that doesn’t mean that the composer and librettist have to take the expected angle, which was jondrytay’s main complaint against Anna Nicole.

          I’ve noticed, by the way, that when the question of contemporary opera subjects is broached on Opera-L (as it has been several times in the last twelve years), people rarely suggest contemporary books or plays or even films, which would seem to be the obvious subject-matter for contemporary operas/musical theater pieces. More often than not, they suggest stuff from the headlines.

          • ianw2

            I think the other advantage of a well-known subject is the element of caution. Sadly, commissions are still rare enough that a ‘known property’ is very attractive. It takes some edge off the ‘new music plinketty plonk fear’ that the marketing department is scared of; and ideally its something that is already known to work plotwise (at least you know that Shakespeare works on stage!). But it does also seem, imo, that a lot of recentish operas have used this as a crutch rather than taking ownership of the source material (i.e, why does Holden Caulfield need to SING?) and the end result is a pale musical imitation of a stronger original.

            Ades’ Tempest has its detractors, but I do think that one of the reason it works as well as it does was that Ades and Oakes took ownership of their source- Shakespeare no less, who has ensnared many a composer- and put it to the service of the music, not the other way around. Whereas Spratlan’s Life is a Dream took a potentially fascinating play and turned it into a bit of a muddle (WHY was that girl clomping around dressed as a man?!).

            I would love to see some more contemporary books or plays (Ruhl for me cries out for an operatic treatment) but don’t underestimate the preference with working with something where the original author is dead and can’t provide notes.

            SO (opera bore), I suppose the most interesting thing for me out of the review of A-N (which I didn’t see, alas), is the idea I extracted above and the differing opinions on whether the creators have a convincing story to tell.

          • armerjacquino

            I think what Richard Thomas has done with AN is taken as his starting point the idea that everyone knows the story in its outline so telling it straight would be in some way predictable. Hence all the distancing stuff.

            I would have been really interested to see the plot unfold more, for want of a better word, organically.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            Why look, another excuse to talk about Grey Gardens and Christine Ebersole. In all seriousness, I think there’s a lot we can learn from GG about how to treat a contemporary story, but also, how do we treat a character whose only public identity is *as* an object of public fascination (or ridiculous, if we’re being more charitable). It seems that the team behind AN has missed the boat by assuming they need to spank us on the wrist for our lurid fascination with AN, by presenting an opera that is as superficial as the public’s interest in Anna Nicole ever was in the first place.

            By contrast, Big Edie, for the minority familiar with the GG documentary, only mattered as an object of fascination/ridicule/horror. It was possible to feel for her circumstances to a point, because of the animals and the urine and all that, but at a certain point she wasn’t a person per se, she was “that crazy woman.” Not real, no history, no grounding in experiences that we can relate to. The first act of GG the musical provides all that grounding for us (in probably a less than thrilling format just in terms of plot). From what I’ve read of AN, she remains the object of public fascination we saw her as in TMZ the entire time, rather than the creative team making an attempt to ground her in some universal experiences in her childhood.

          • A. Poggia Turra

            One of the most successful (in my opinion, anyway) contemporary operas was Ruders’ The Handmaid’s Tale, premiered in 2000 and based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel.

          • armerjacquino

            ON- that’s spot on.

    • Buster

      Love that quote -- could be the opening of a Joan Didion piece.

    • Belfagor

      Well, I do think Richard Thomas was a dodgy choice as librettist -- which was evidently marketing over demonstrable ability. Jerry Springer was a riotously funny sketch in progress when it first emerged at the London fringe -- when it went big time there was a problematic second act, and no narrative structure. No doubt he has a way with words, but there needed to be a musical comedy style ‘book’ writer employed -- I don’t think he has the craft to construct a narrative arc, and neither is Turnage enough of a natural musical dramatist (in the Janacek/Berg mode -- and who is??) to bend a faulty narrative structure to his musical will.

  • A. Poggia Turra

    With due respect* to the author of the posting, a far fine writer than I could ever hope to be, I think that he/she simply “overthought” the piece.

    What I saw on the ROH stage on Feb. 17th was, no more and no less, an “entertainment”. And on those hyper-simplistic terms, I think that Turnage, Thomas the production team and the performers succeeded to the maximum extent.

    Yes, there are allegorical aspects, cautionary tales and even some (partially-achieved) profundity. But ultimately, the tag line of the production, “because the party always ends”, perfectly describes Anna’s significance and meaning to those of use who now outlive her. Nothing lasts …..

    • A. Poggia Turra

      * An asterisk after “due respect” to clarify that I mean that sincerely, not as back-handed snark.

      • armerjacquino

        No offence taken! Thank you for your kind words.

        Clarification: He am I… I mean, we are us… that is to say, I wrote that; it’s my blog.

        • Well done! Thanks for such a thoughtful review.

        • ianw2

          oh! I didn’t realise that was your nom de plume. Well you’re off the hook, now only manou needs cornering.

          • manou

            Wait wait wait -- you need to corner me?I am distraught.

        • armerjacquino


    • Cocky Kurwenal

      A. Poggia Tura, although I agree that Anna Nicole is entertaining, and succeeds as a piece of entertainment pure and simple, I guess the fact that she was a real person whose tragic demise was recent and who has various surviving relatives means that for me, it isn’t an appropriate subject to present as pure entertainment. I don’t mean this at all sanctimoniously, but we are talking about real people with real feelings and I think that calls for a great deal more compassion. I do find Anna Nicole Smith’s story sad and it is one that invokes empathy in me, but unfortunately this opera failed to stimulate any sense of empathy or caring about her whatsoever because of the way it was presented. A couple of days after I saw it, this I suppose is my overwhelming reaction to it -- that I’m just not comfortable with a very sad human story that concerns living people and the recent dead being turned into pure entertainment, inviting us to point and laugh and then forget all about it.

  • John-Boy wrote a libretto?