sat 13/07/2024

DVD: Anna Nicole | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Anna Nicole

DVD: Anna Nicole

The American non-celebrity feted in ensemble-perfect opera

Eva-Maria Westbroek's Anna Nicole wheeling circles around Alan Oke's ancient plutocratBill Cooper

“I wanna blow you all… a kiss” are our hapless heroine’s first and last words in this opera dealing with Anna Nicole Smith's real-life rise and fall in strip-cartoon, morality-ballad style. But it’s not by any means the shallow, voyeuristic tack-fest you might have expected from, among others, the creator of Jerry Springer: The Opera.

That’s Richard Thomas, whose words have their fair share of cheap thrills. But here he’s in harness with a composer, Mark-Anthony Turnage, as well as a director (the ever-amazing Richard Jones) and a conductor (Royal Opera helmsman Antonio Pappano) who know how to disconcert and to pull the complacent shagpile rug from under the tittering audience’s feet.

This is the second time I’ve seen the show; the first was from a Covent Garden box which hid from my view the plastic animals and nodding dogs who make up Anna Nicole’s kitsch menagerie. I liked it then more, I think, than my colleague on theartsdesk Igor Toronyi-Lalic, and now it confirms my hunch that elegy is what Turnage does best. Since Blood on the Floor, the shattering orchestral work for jazz combo and orchestra which commemorated his brother’s death from heroin, he’s tuned in like no other contemporary composer to waste and loss. Sure, the popular-music riffs and the big band sounds can exhilarate, but it’s the moments of uncertainty – the souring of the protagonist’s Big American Dream theme, the drug litany of her son when he comes back from the dead and the Weill-esque anger of her mom (the superb Sue Bickley) - which stick in the mind.

anna_nicole_9I thought I couldn’t care about this woman. But fabulous dramatic soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek charms us from the start - more Marilyn Monroe than trailer trash – and keeps us radiant-bemused company through the trajectory of Anna Nicole’s life, from knocked-about wife and Walmart drone to trophy bride of eightysomething J Howard Marshall II (tenor Alan Oke, convincing) and exploited target of scumbag lawyer Stern (Gerald Finley, not exactly in Hans Sachs mode). Above all it’s the ensemble work and the look of Jones’s note-perfect production, with the quick lighting changes of Mimi Jordan Sherin and DM Wood coming up exceptionally well on screen, that will keep it companionable on multiple viewings. A shame the TV showing happened so quickly that there wasn’t time to make a decent documentary; the extra is slight. But make no mistake: Anna Nicole the opera is here to stay.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters