Anna Nicole, the Royal Opera House's grand staging of the tragic life of Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, has opened in London. The opera chronicles her rise to fame, her marriage to octogenarian billionaire J. Howard Marshall II, and her descent into drug addiction and an early death. With librettist Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera) on board, the production seemed marked for controversy early on. But is the final result any good?
Yes. It is an unlikely triumph: This once seemed like a "tawdry way for a major opera house to look hip," says Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times. But this curiously inspired work ended up being not just outrageous, but "inexplicably poignant." Against all the odds, it's a success.
"Opera reimagines a tabloid sensation"
An event, yes, but an opera? No: Anna Nicole may have the "dramatic trappings of opera," says Andrew Clements at The Guardian, but its music is "sub Sondheim when reflective, [and] off-Broadway musical when flippant." The result gives "the tacky sense of a misfiring musical," despite some "first rate" performances.
"Anna Nicole - review"
Great singing, no substance: This opera was so pumped up with hype, says Anne Midgette at The Washington Post, that it comes off as a "failed souffle." It fails to make a case why anybody should care about what happened to Smith and her husband. The singers were terrific though — particularly the "firm and shining" Eva-Maria Westbroek as the title character, resplendent in "a pair of alarming fake breasts so ill-fitting they would have shamed any self-respecting drag queen."
"Royal Opera's 'Anna Nicole' misses the inner beauty"
It is an opera for our excessive era: This "operatic parable" is one for our times, says Jessica Duchen at The Independent (UK). Mark Anthony Turnage's score is "varied, acidic, lyrical, and occasionally heartbreaking," while the libretto captures Anna Nicole as not only a tragic heroine, but "the rise and fall of Western excess itself."
"First Night: Anna Nicole, Royal Opera House"