Posts Tagged ‘Gerald Finley’

Review – Anna Nicole – Royal Opera House

February 24, 2011

The Jerry Springer: The Opera people take on the story of Anna Nicole Smith, “former stripper, Playmate of the year, single mom.” I mean, what really could go wrong? It’s not like I don’t already hate pretty much every modern opera I’ve ever seen and that this wasn’t just a blatant attempt to sex up the Royal Opera House with some more of that moronic celebrity-worshiping mentality that’s currently stinking up the West End.

Except, well, I loved it. It was really fun and lighthearted and blasted the cobwebs right out of the dusty old hall. From the excessive swearing on stage to the heaving, much-younger crowd in the seats, everything was new and different and exciting. The audience laughed! Frequently! There was a chorus and what they said was interesting! And funny!

Okay, well, I have to be honest and admit … the music. It was still kind of the same old boring modern opera stuff that just doesn’t ever grab you (well, me) or send you home with a spring in your step and a tune in your heart. Mark-Anthony Turnage did not give us a “Jerry Springer Moment” (fair enough as it was lyricist Richard Thomas who composed the music for that show) but I wish he could have done a little more to put some musical into the music.

Fortunately, the lyrics, story, and staging loomed so high – spilling all the way up the curtain (hot pink!) and to the image of Anna Nicole floating over the orchestra pit – that it was hard to get a head of steam about the notes coming out of people’s mouth (and the orchestra pit). Instead, we were sucked into a comi-tragic tale of a girl with not much going for her who tries to make a life in which she is, and means, something. It could have all been very ugly – wanting fame without accomplishment isn’t very admirable – but she’s built up very sympathetically, with an evil lawyer (Gerald Finley) taking most of the blame for the camera-chasing while Anna Nicole (Eva-Maria Westbroek) is supposedly just trying to get herself and her son out of poverty.

Yet despite the comic-book level of jokiness and crass humor, I felt we were shown very plainly just what a real soul-crushing situation being poor is. Stepfathers who try to grab you, men who get angry when you get pregnant, relatives with dead end lives who only show interest if you have money … a lifetime of working at WalMart, smiling at people who sneer at you and hoping you never get sick because you don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to go to the hospital. Really, if this is what you have to look forward to, why not be a stripper? I mean, hey, in this country, aren’t they trying to push it on poor unemployed women anyway? (How long before they just tell all poor women to get jobs as prostitutes?) Stripping is ethical and if you want to be a success, gigantic boobs is the way to go. And when you think about it, Anna Nicole didn’t lie or cheat or backstab or hurt other people to get out of poverty … she just took what little she had and tried to make the most of it.

Meanwhile, we’re treated to a series of songs that illustrate and frequently amuse – songs about not having boobs, songs about the benefits of getting big boobs, songs about names for boobs (sense a theme?), songs about drugs, songs about what it takes to get by when your primary asset is your body – but underlying it all is this big fat sense of tragedy. Anna Nicole gets attention and money, but she’s still having to sell herself for it. She has pretty shoes and a big house, but her hold on these material objects is as tenuous as the grasp on life of her octogenarian husband (Alan Oke, in fine voice and looking good in gold lame’). We can all rejoice that she’s managed to get that wedding ring on her finger – and the marriage is the highlight of the brilliant act one – but what is left for her?

The answer is: getting old, getting fat, losing her money but trying to hang on. Act two becomes very sad, focused on her attempts to grasp or find more dough while she’s not really able to exert real control over her life. She’s pathetic and insipid on TV, but her lawyer just keeps encouraging her to go out and make a fool of herself, while dropping clues to journos about when they can find her getting out of a car and forgetting to wear panties. Wow, this is the big time? It seemed so fitting that we’d see this sad woman using the toilet on stage (like the pole dancers an opera house first for me). She was cheap, she was cheapened, she was disgusting. And yet all the way through … she stayed sympathetic. I was a little worn out at the end – even the giant nodding doggies couldn’t make her decline fun – but overall this is one of the most exciting operas I’ve ever attended, and I’m thrilled that I had the chance to see it.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011. There are three more performances with the final on Friday March 4th. It’s sold out, but don’t worry; regular work with the F5 button will likely produce a seat.)

Review – Die tote Stadt – Royal Opera House

February 12, 2009

Last night I went with J and Cate to see Die tote Stadt at the Royal Opera House. I was attracted to this opera for two reasons; first, it was the first ever UK production of this show; second, it was a 20th century opera written in the early part of the century, when things were more musical. I like new shows and I liked the possibility of an opera that I’d actually enjoy – because, I must be honest, I am really just not much of an opera fan. I keep trying and trying but I’ve failed to create a passion for the art form, though I do enjoy listening to people sing.

Anyway, I found Die Tote Stadt really quite fun. It started slowly, in the house of a man who’s created a massive fetish about his dead wife – his house is full of pictures of her and he sits around caressing her hair (ew!). But he’s convinced he’s found her again, in the person of a dancer he’s run into on the streets of Brussels.

At this point, I am forced to quote Robyn Hitchcock, whose song “My Wife and My Dead Wife” played over and over in my head during the course of this show. I’ll refer to it again during the review as it just seemed to appropriate for the show not to share.

“My wife and my dead wife
“Am I the only one that sees her?
“My wife and my dead wife
“Doesn’t anybody see her at all?”

While listening to Paul (Stephen Gould) wax poetic about his love for his dead Marie, either to himself or to his friend Frank (Gerald Finley), I was a bit creeped out, but also not very interested – it seemed all so sterile and dull, like even when Marie was alive there was something extremely non-physical about their relationship. I feared for the evening. The staging was reminding me way too much of almost everything I’ve seen at ENO, where the singers stomp back and forth from one end of the stage to another with no apparent purpose but to demonstrate the size of the venue.

But when dancer Marietta (Nadja Michael) appeared on stage, the show gained momentum. She was full of life, dressed in yellow and full of passion and love for herself. While she was willing to play with Paul’s obsession, she made it clear that she was herself, and not anyone else, and ran off into the night to attend her show rehearsal.

“My dead wife sits in a chair
“Combing her hair
“I know she’s there.”

At this point Paul appears to pass out in a state of exhaustion, and has a conversation with his dead Marie, who appears in a room that’s behind the one in which he sleeps (and a copy of it). I found this trope quite cool – Marie sitting in the same chair in the living room that’s now empty, addressing a man whom in the dream world is sitting up (while Paul sings in the front room, apparently asleep). Marie chides Paul for not being faithful to her, then says she’s going to warn him about what will happen if he tries to renew his love for her with this other woman. What? A jealous ghost? It all seems to be Paul’s subconscious handling his guilt poorly. It all builds up to this triumphal/spooky moment where all of these top-hatted dancers come onto the stage to reveal …

WHAT? While my ultra cheap, very very very back of the opera house tickets did manage to let me read the supertitles, the climax of this scene (like “Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend”) was invisible from where I sat as the person who was revealed within the circle of dancers was only visible from the waist up and thus completely obscured by the top of the set. Wah. Was it a gowned or bejeweled dancer, the dead woman, or perhaps a skeleton? I will never know!

However, at this point the set went even wackier, as the ghost attempted to illustrate for her husband the ill things that would occur to him if he hooked up with Mariette. This part left me somewhat confused as to whether or not it was reality she was showing or just his fevered dreams, but I loved the energy and surrealism, with houses floating across the back of the stage (a la Wizard of Oz), nuns marching by carrying a crucified Mariette (or was it Marie?), and white garbed dancers (Mariette’s troupe) who suddenly flip the 6 foot portrait of Marie around to show it as WHOOP WHOOP a gaping skull! (It seemed really obvious that this would happen.)

“And I can’t decide which one I love the most
“The flesh and blood or the pale, smiling ghost”

At some point it appears that Paul has actually hooked up with Mariette in reality, but by the end of the scene he’s guilting about how he’s ruined his pure love for his wife. Mariette reproaches him for not accepting his love for her, and it seems that things are going to go well … but no, it’s German culture 1920 and women who embrace their sexuality can pretty much only be vampires, a la The Blue Angel. Mariette parades aroudn stage with no hair at all and Paul gives in and admit it’s she he loves – and his reward is to get stuck wearing the Pucinella/”Dumbo” costume. Bah. Can’t it be a good thing that he’s finally decided to move forward with his life instead of living in the past? Is all of this just his wife attempting to control him from beyond the grave?

“My wife lies down on the beach/She’s sucking a peach
“She’s out of reach/Of the waves that crash on the sand
“Where my dead wife stands/Holding my hand”

“Now my wife can’t swim/but neither could she/And deep in the sea
“She’s waiting for me …”

At this point, 90 minutes in, the interval occurs … and I realized I didn’t really have any curiosity about Paul and what else might happen to him, and I felt emotionally satisfied by him accepting his love for Mariette, and I was worn out and not looking forward to getting home after 11 and being exhausted all day at work. Cate proposed that we go home – and so we did. That said, I did enjoy the opera, and I recommend it as fun to watch, though I can’t say the music was too exciting – but that’s probably more about me than about the music, not that Erich Wolfgang Korngold would really care one way or another.

(Cast list here. This performance took place Wednesday, February 11th, 2009. Die Tote Stadt’s last performance is February 17th.)