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Anna Nicole is a new opera with music by Mark-Anthony Turnage and libretto by Richard Thomas. Although Turnage is an experienced opera composer, it is clear that Thomas is the senior partner in the collaboration. The opera is remarkably similar in style to Thomas's previous work Jerry Springer the Opera. Like that work, it is populated by outrageously characterised specimens of working-class American life. Thomas's lyrics are brilliant, funny and peppered with obscenities. Turnage's easy-going score serves the lyrics well but is rarely more than serviceable.
Eva-Maria Westbroek is Anna Nicole Smith the poor Texan girl who goes from WalMart employee to pole-dancer to billionaire's wife to litigious widow before eventually dying from a drug overdose. Westbroek's characterisation is intense right from her first line "I want to blow you " (pause) "a kiss". She is a fairly well-built operatic soprano so her early scenes as the flat-chested Anna Nicole are a bit implausible but once she has the operation and appears with the huge prosthetic breasts she is more convincing. The fat suit gets fatter as the opera progresses until it is all-encompassing by her final scene.
Alan Oke turns in a sympathetic vignette as Old Man Marshall, Anna's sugar daddy husband. That fine baritone Gerald Finley is generally wasted as the Lawyer Stern. Seen in the BBC film, the production rather overstays its two hours. I think it was probably much more fun when seen live at Covent Garden. Strangely the BBC see fit to censor the subtitles. If the cast are singing obscenity this and Obscenity that and these words can clearly be seen in the theatre surtitles, why does the BBC have to write F*** and C*** in the subtitles. It was like reading The Times.
Thomas's libretto has some deliciously funny lines such as Anna Nicole's realisation that "There's no such thing as a free ranch" or Marshall bragging that his book has been translated into three languages: "English, American and Australian". One number, during the cosmetic surgery scene, consists entirely of synonyms for breasts, another sung by Anna-Nicole's son as he is dying of an overdose consists entirely of names of prescription drugs
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