drugs, sex, greed, grotesque behavior: it could only be opera, right?
March 11, 2015 10:04 PM   Subscribe

In terms of unlikely subjects for modern opera, see John Adams.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:12 PM on March 11, 2015

Ugh, one of my great regrets is missing this when I could see it. At first notice I thought it sounded like a gimmick but then the chorus of people going "No it's brilliant" and then watching clips of the production: Of course Anna Nicole is the perfect character for an opera, the most direct, complicated, stage-y, stylized, and nakedly unsubtle of art forms. Who else could've lived the kind of Rigoletto excess?

Seriously watchy the PARTAY clip. gah

So sad I missed the boat on this.
posted by The Whelk at 10:33 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

so funny to hear a thick Texas accent in operatic singing
posted by idiopath at 10:42 PM on March 11, 2015

(I mean, having her revealed from a chorus, like Venus on her shell , in a chair of gold lame, to be met with not the enclothing winds but a squadron of reporters is ....good)
posted by The Whelk at 10:42 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I saw this at New York City Opera's final performance. This is what I wrote about it at the time:

Sitting up close I could see the mics, the fake breast covers, the artificiality of it all. I am not sure that this was inappropriate. After the strong first act my wife noted that this was more Brechtian than the last Threepenny Opera she saw. I am realizing that this is the opposite of what most opera tries to do.

Sarah Joy Miller's Anna was well sung, with a Texan accent. She showed real heartbreak when Marshall got sick and died though there were few places for her to show that vocally. The pace of the opera was quick, with little time for emotive arias.

Susan Bickley [Virgie] was another standout, clear and forceful. Nicholas Barasch was mostly silent as Teenage Daniel but his post-death catalog of drugs was sweet and touching. Robert Brubaker [Old Man Marshall] was wild and funny and broad but sure and solid of voice.

The piece was done with high production values, the costumes looked great and the set designs were often great and insightful.

Steven Sloan conducted though I have a hard time saying anything about either the conducting or even the orchestral writing. It set the mood well but didn't grab me, though this was my first time hearing it.

posted by mountmccabe at 10:55 PM on March 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Sigh. Poor Anna. Everything that happened to her and hers was her own fault, but she had a big heart and meant no harm. A tragic figure well suited to opera for sure.
posted by yellowbinder at 11:02 PM on March 11, 2015

This feels like reprehensibly kicking someone who cant defend themself for (someone else's) profit.

Even in death she's paraded about for the crowd to point at and gawk.

Rest in peace.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:37 PM on March 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

From what I can tell, the opera is a very symaothetic take on her as a traditional tragic operatic heroine,
posted by The Whelk at 11:45 PM on March 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nicki Minaj's sudden dead serious "Rest in peace, Anna Nicole Smith" in the middle of a verse was the first time in my life I've ever heard anyone in pop culture talk about Anna Nicole like she was a human being worthy of basic respect. RIP.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 11:54 PM on March 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

I really just can't process the cruelty of this. Her daughter is around 8 or 9 now and the knowledge that this girl is one day going to not only have to come to grips with the tragedy of her family's deaths but the fact that the world was and still is sneering at them for it. Cataloguing the drugs in an opera and making graphic jokes about her mother's breasts. The mob mentality behind the scapegoating of Anna Nicole as a cipher of modern excess to be torn down is frightening. It being done ironically by the intelligentsia doesn't make that better.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 12:07 AM on March 12, 2015 [9 favorites]

I have various friends who worked on this at Covent Garden. For what it's worth, they worked hard to tell the story well. One of the great sadnesses was that Philip Langridge was cast to create the role of the husband, but he died before the premiere.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:40 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I always took this work as a mordant meta joke about opera's "relevance."
posted by spitbull at 4:39 AM on March 12, 2015

I always took this work as a mordant meta joke about opera's "relevance."

♪ Turnage Mordant Meta Musicals ♪
♪ Turnage Mordant Meta Musicals ♫
♫ Turnage Mordant Meta Musicals ♪

posted by oulipian at 5:03 AM on March 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yeah, this feels incredibly disrespectful, exploitative, and gross.
posted by Librarypt at 5:25 AM on March 12, 2015

I'm not an opera fan, at all, but I would have liked to see this.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:27 AM on March 12, 2015

I'm with The Whelk -- still totally crushed that I missed this.

As for John Adams, I don't see any of his subjects as odd choices for operas at all. Truly. That's why they tend to turn out so well. "Doctor Atomic" was one of the two or three best things I've ever seen at the Met, and I've been going to the Met regularly since 1980 or thereabouts.
posted by holborne at 7:56 AM on March 12, 2015

I saw this at BAM in Brooklyn when it played there in 2013 and was deeply unimpressed. I was hoping that the opera could turn the lurid rise and fall of Anna Nicole Smith into a worthy tragedy. Instead, it just held its nose at its subject matter and treated everyone (including the audience) with scorn. The "shocking" bits are mostly sophomoric or downright childish with a strong undercurrent of misogyny and the "tragic" bits mostly devolve into repetition and gloom. And these bits are strung along haphazardly. It was also clearly written by non-Americans aping what they thought poor Americans might say - which resulted not just in jarring intrusions of non-idiomatic American English and woefully out-of-date slang, but what felt like condescension towards the struggles of poor people.

If this was a different age, I would have booed at its conclusion, I despised this opera so much (but instead everyone gives everything a standing ovation no matter how terrible).
posted by Falconetti at 8:00 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found myself rather inexplicably drawn into the first season of her reality show and found her a remarkably sympathetic - though yes, operatically tragic - character. By the second season, this quality had gone away entirely, as the show started deliberately contriving silly situations to stick Anna Nicole in for no apparent reason beyond simple absurdity. But before all that artifice had occurred to them, she was revealed as a very human character who had taken the only way she saw out of a miserable, hardscrabble life of poverty in rural Texas.

It was especially brought home for me when we saw someone who didn't escape it. At one point, some other sleazy documentary filmmaker had gone to Texas and dug up some dirt-poor relation and then flown her out to LA to stir shit up. There was a lot of hanging around in the front yard and shouting about how much she loved Anna and just wanted her to come out and talk to her, and paying for dentistry to repair the relation's horrible, rotting teeth, and so on. It encapsulated so much that is so wrong with this culture. And it also convinced me that she was the kind of person who would totally have married an 80-year-old billionaire if it got her a chance at a different life - who wouldn't do anything to escape that? And also that she probably really loved a man who was kind to her, even if he was a rich geriatric trying to use a naive girl with enormous breasts to stave off death.

Opera is indeed the perfect medium for all this...
posted by Naberius at 8:02 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

From what I can tell, the opera is a very symaothetic take on her as a traditional tragic operatic heroine,

Perhaps I am an outlier, but this was not my take at all. I was excited by the opera because I thought it would be this, but instead it reeked of the privileged intelligentsia sneering at a grotesque made even grosser by her abject beginnings (ewww - poor people are so stupid and unrefined!). I was shocked at how condescending it was (and how others I know who saw it did not seem to think this was problematic).
posted by Falconetti at 8:06 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Craig Kilborn on addiction, Anna Nicole, Britney Spears, and making jokes that allow him to sleep at night.

The fact that the people at Covent Garden tried to tell the story well is meaningless.

Intentions are meaningless, outcomes are all that matter.

And the result is that the entertainment media rode the ANS horse in to the ground, then kicked the freshly dead corpse when the final home video came out, and now someone's applying jumper cables to the remains to make the muscles twitch amusingly one last time for the leering mob who want to congratulate themselves one more time for not being a doomed fuck up like that bimbo gold-digger from Texas.

Operatic tragedy? Hardly. Opera is a marginal cultural force in 2015.

This was a mundane, everyday tragedy played out for the entertainment media cameras involving lots of money and family fights, whipped up by the same hunger for other people's dysfunction that made Jerry Springer.

Whatever people intended, they should have done something else. Because at this point, they're vultures circling the corpse, looking for one last tear at the tasty, tasty flesh.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:14 AM on March 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

(That's Craig Ferguson, Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey.)
posted by dnash at 9:05 AM on March 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm curious what people might think about Mikel Rouse's Dennis Cleveland, which used as its subject Jerry Springer-esque shows. How does it work when its about a fictionalized non-famous person?
posted by lownote at 10:49 AM on March 12, 2015

Dayum. Indeed it is.

I blame the chest cold currently wracking my person.

posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:50 AM on March 12, 2015

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