Prospect recommends: Opera

February 16, 2011
Anna NicoleDir Richard Jones, Royal Opera House, 17th Feb-4th March

Rape, lust and the flames of hell inspired Mozart’s Don Giovanni; horror and sexual obsession led to a child’s death in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. It’s hard to think of an opera that doesn’t trade in sex and/or death. The Royal Opera’s Anna Nicole is less controversial and more canonical than it might seem at first glance.

That said, not many operas make a tragic heroine out of a tabloid babe who went from being a waitress, stripper and Playboy Playmate of the Year to becoming the 26-year-old wife to an 89-year-old oil magnate. The old man’s death 13 months later accentuated a lurid life filled with inheritance lawsuits, paternity cases and, finally, a drugs overdose in 2007. All of which makes it perfect material for Richard Thomas, composer and co-librettist of the notorious Jerry Springer: The Opera. Despite hugely demanding vocal writing, that was closer to being a musical than an opera. This time, the score is by Mark-Anthony Turnage, whose music runs from orchestral fireworks like the Francis Bacon-inspired Three Screaming Popes to jazz pieces.

Maintaining the “is it an opera/is it music-theatre?” balancing act is Richard Jones. Britain’s most iconoclastic director (and a former jazz pianist), he has won four Olivier awards and made his operatic name directing Prokofiev’s The Love For Three Oranges… with scratch’n’sniff cards. Expect, in other words, the unexpected.