Tabloid music
23 Feb 2011
Inside the Classics

Hi! Sorry. I haven’t disappeared off the face of the earth, as some may have suspected, although I’ve been terribly remiss in the blog department. Blame it on 10 days of particularly tiring travels (4 states in a week is rough) as well as getting stuck on the East Coast (thank you, Delta, for canceling 700 flights during the most recent Midwestern Snowpocalypse).

While I was on the road, “Anna Nicole: The Opera” premiered at the Royal Opera in London. I’ve been curious about this production since it was announced, and the music world’s response to the February 18 premier doesn’t disappoint; everything from “stunning” and “deliciously imaginative” to “what a waste” (see a collection of critical responses here).

What underscores all the commentary, however, is an undeniable attitude of mocking disdain of the source material herself. Anna Nicole’s life was made for the tabloids, and it’s hard not to view her as a pneumatically inflated gold-digging drug addict. But if one removes that nagging sense of judgment, the actual story becomes clear; she was a tragic figure, and the train wreck of her life was begging for an over-the-top theatrical treatment. So why not opera?

And for those who feel she’s too tawdry or scandalous a figure to whom to devote a new opera production, I ask, what if she were a fictional character? I’m thinking here particularly of Lulu, the bisexual circus performer/dancer/prostitute who had far more husbands than Anna and left a trail of dead bodies in here wake…and ends up murdered herself, by Jack the Ripper, no less! If that’s not the kind of story that would be instant tabloid fodder, I don’t know what is.

Do we judge “Lulu” by the character of Lulu herself? Of course not. But the music world is judging the merits of “Anna Nicole” by its feelings on Anna herself. Is that fair, either to Anna or to the opera?

(Larry Birkhead thinks the whole thing is unfair…)

<October 2019>

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