In Review

Anna Nicole – reviews of 'flamboyant' opera revival

Royal Opera's 'terrific' revival of Anna Nicole Smith story balances pathos, humour and sleaze

What you need to know

A revival of 2011 opera Anna Nicole has opened at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Mark-Anthony Turnage's opera features a libretto by Richard Thomas, co-creator of the hit Jerry Springer: the Opera.

It tells the story of the life and tragic death of Anna Nicole Smith, a young single mother from Texas, whose desire to be famous leads her to become a stripper, wed an octogenarian billionaire and become a Playboy model. She soon learns that her celebrity comes at the price of exploitation, media intrusion and a dependence on pills.

Richard Gerard Jones directs a cast starring Dutch opera singer Eva-Maria Westbroek as Anna Nicole Smith. Runs until 24 September.

What the critics like

This "terrific" revival is, if anything, musically stronger and emotionally deeper than the original, says Rupert Christiansen in the Daily Telegraph. This is a high-octane helter-skelter ride through dangerous but exhilarating territory that "hits a bullseye, which other modern operas are missing by a mile".  

This "flamboyant and brilliant" production, vigorously revived, keeps us visually riveted, says Hilary Finch in The Times. Eva-Maria Westbroek gives her considerable all in the title role, while Antonio Pappano conducting Turnage's artful score, activates the vortex of dark humour, absurdity and exploitation that whirls through the evening.

Westbroek brings out the pathos of Nicole magnificently and "Richard Thomas's libretto tells the abject story indecently well", says Kate Kellaway in The Guardian. But what gives the opera its power is the persistent disconnect between score and subject: intelligent urgency in contrast to dismaying mindlessness and the sleazily grotesque.

What they don't like

It's extremely well done, but time has not been kind to this scabrous tale, says Tim Ashley in The Guardian. Richard Thomas's libretto can no longer provoke the shock-and-titter response it once did, so "we're more aware of the opera as a prurient, rather conventional morality tale" on the supposedly ruinous combination of sex, money and ambition.

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