Magazine article The Spectator

Touching the Void

Magazine article The Spectator

Touching the Void

Article excerpt

Anna Nicole Royal Opera House, in rep until 4 March The Royal Opera has been both noisy and evasive about Mark-Anthony Turnage's new opera, Anna Nicole, with words by Richard Thomas of Jerry Springer: the Opera notoriety. I have never seen and heard so much advance publicity, for any arts event whatever, and yet, apart from telling us that it was to be about the eponymous celebrity, there was very little about the piece that could actually be called information.

There seemed something reflexive about the whole operation, endless articles and interviews, but a void at the centre, which is exactly and obviously what celebrity culture is. The impression was confirmed when, turning up early to read the programme, since the Royal Opera had embargoed even a synopsis of the opera on its website, I watched one weirdly dressed person after another being interviewed and photographed in the foyer, as they held their complimentary drinks; I imagine they were moderate celebrities who had been persuaded to take an interest in the latest example of radical aesthetic chic.

Entering the auditorium was a mild shock. The familiar sumptuous crimson curtains had been replaced by mauvish-pink ones, with AIIR instead of EIIR, and even a picture of Anna Nicole in front of the usual silhouette of the Queen. When the orchestra struck up, conducted by Antonio Pappano, it was in the raucous tones of a Broadway musical, and as the curtains parted, with uniformed guys on the right and girls on the left, Anna reposing in the centre, the sense was of an immaculately staged pastiche.

The story of Anna, all the way up in the first half, though with intimations that she won't stay at the top, and all the way down in Act II, is presented in comic-strip style, with, at least in Act I, the action and words taking precedence over the music. There is so much text to be got through, so many career moves to be charted, that Turnage can only dutifully scurry along, displaying his long-term affinity with jazz and rock, but not making one original sound. So by the interval I felt that all he was doing was providing a serviceable soundtrack, and nothing that can properly be called opera can be described in that way.

There is a decent quota of indecencies, verbal and acted, of the order of Anna singing to a male cohort 'I want to blow you all, blow you all . …

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