The Clements Blog

Anna Nicole - the Real Deal?

It has been an funny old week for opera fans. Anna Nicole, the new opera by Mark-Anthony Turnage has opened at Covent Garden in London and is receiving mixed reviews. It tells the true story of the former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, who married billionaire J. Howard Marshall II before dying of a drug overdose. Seedy stuff, but in fact not that far from the stories of a classic favourite like Carmen. On paper, Anna Nicole looks like great material for a modern opera.

But are there special difficulties when setting real-life events to music - what happens when those real-life events fade into history and become less relevant? Does the same thing happen to the opera? Nixon in China, by American composer John Adams, is one of the most famous of all 'reality' operas. It tells the true story of US President Richard Nixon's visit to Communist China in 1972, a major moment in the history of the Cold War. When Adams' opera was first performed in 1987 the events were still in the memory of many of his listeners, and it was immediately hailed as a modern classic. This week the opera has been revived in New York, but it has failed to generate the same buzz as it did in 1987, nearly 25 years ago. Is the Cold War fading too far from memory?

In an interesting comparison, the night before Anna Nicole opened, Covent Garden staged a production of Wagner's Parsifal, an opera based on a German medieval legend. And that won huge praise from everyone who saw it.

So is opera - in which characters sing instead of speak, and rousing music follows their every movement - too unreal for reality? Or are there modern-day stories and characters that really deserve to be sung on the stage?

Tim Rutherford-Johnson is a writer on music. He blogs at The Rambler


By TeresaD

It is important that new operas are composed and that they tackle contemporary subjects. The subject that is chosen may not be everyone's idea of what an opera should be about but these are the times we are live in and they should be represented.

By JoTerry

I would not waste my time or money seeing this!

By Max23

I would actually like to see this. I enjoyed Jerry Springer The Opera! Its just something a bit different.

By TeresaD

I have just read this!
Basically, there is going to be an opera about Nick Griffin at the Royal Opera House! The libretto has been written by Bonnie Greer after her experience of sitting next to him on Question Time a couple of years ago. I can't believe anyone will want to see this?!

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