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World Premiere: Mark-Anthony Turnage's Anna Nicole at ROH

18 February 2011, London, UK

Eva-Maria Westbroek as Anna Nicole
Eva-Maria Westbroek as Anna NicolePhoto: The Royal Opera / Bill Cooper

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Anna Nicole is a new Royal Opera House commission based on the life of American model and celebrity, Anna Nicole Smith. Opera Now’s Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar, attended the world premiere and writes:

“It’s an opera not a documentary” and “we don’t trash her” said the creators of Anna Nicole in a BBC interview shortly before opening night. Neither statement turns out to be true.

Richard Thomas, the man behind Jerry Springer – the Opera, has written a brittle, witty, filthy, libretto that provides a documentary-style account of Anna Nicole’s rise to celebrity.  Microphones and cameras are ever-present capturing every twist and turn of her story

Anna’s low-life Texan family provide a context for the model’s dysfunctional life.  We are invited to laugh at them all – caricatures of white American trash behaving badly, always a-brawling and a-swearing, to the delight of Covent Garden’s comfortably middle-class audience.

In reality, Anna Nicole Smith’s life was examined entirely from the outside, through a prurient media frenzy that created a pedestal for her purely so that it could be knocked down. We know very little about the inner world that lay beyond the boob jobs and the peroxide blond curls. And Anna Nicole the opera doesn’t take us any deeper.

What we do have in Covent Garden’s Anna Nicole is a great show. Director Richard Jones has an flare for bringing style and energy to brash, tacky stories and designer Miriam Buether has translated Jones’s imaginative world into a riot of fluorescent kitsch.

The cast is excellent: Eva-Maria Westbroek socks it to the audience as the game-for-anything Anna. Gerald Finley packs a punch as her opportunist lawyer (a far more convincing sleaze-ball than his Don Giovanni at Glyndebourne last summer).  Alan Oke is clearly having fun prancing around in his gold jumpsuit as the billionaire octogenarian husband, J Howard Marshall. Best of all is Susan Bickley as Anna's mother, raging with foul-mouthed moral indignation at her daughter's behaviour.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s score keeps up with the wise-cracking pace of the libretto while never really finding a musical language of its own. There’s plenty of skilful pastiche (think Kurt Weill, even Stravinsky). A Britten-esque interlude in Act II indicates that there is a bigger musical spirit at work here, but it's barely allowed to develop. The music is, however, delivered with tremendous showmanship by Antonio Pappano and the ROH orchestra and chorus.

In the end though, composer and librettist seem to shy away from what opera does best, which is to connect with the emotional heart of its characters. The death of Anna’s son Daniel marks a real turning point in the emotional temperature of Anna’s story, but Turnage and Thomas don't seem to be able to turn up the heat. This is where a big tune, a soaring, Puccini-esque cry from the heart might have done the trick.  Instead, we just get another superficial glimpse of an sad and pathetic life, caught in the flash of a camera.

Anna Nicole runs at the Royal Opera House until 4 March 2011.


Odeon launches Carmen in 3D

17 February 2011, London, UK

Carmen in 3D
Carmen in 3D(Photo: The Royal Opera / Mike Hoban)

The UK cinema group Odeon has announced its first ever 3D opera season, including a film of Carmen that will be screened nationally from 5 March onwards.

Featuring Christine Rice as Carmen and Bryan Hymel as Don José, the ultra-traditional production by American director Francesca Zambello was shot at London’s Royal Opera House last summer.

Speaking about the new technology, a Royal Opera House spokesperson told Opera Now that “the extra visual dimension of 3D puts you in the middle of the action. During filming, the camera goes right up, over, and around the characters on stage, so it creates an effect with much stronger impact and drama than the existing 2D technology.”

Opera Now Editor, Ashutosh Khandekar, attended a preview screening of the new film last month and writes: “I found myself being hurled into the action, totally involved and scrutinising every detail, down to the pores on people’s skin. I’m sure it’s the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing what singing on an international opera stage is really like.”

Later this month, Odeon will also screen the world’s first live 3D opera – ENO’s production of Lucrezia Borgia straight from the Coliseum.


"Neue Stimmen" 2011 invites talented young singers to apply

17 February 2011, Gütersloh, Germany

The “Neue Stimmen” International Singing Competition recently launched its 14th season and is inviting talented young singers to apply by 31 March.

The Competition’s final round will take place in Gütersloh, Germany, between 16 and 22 October.

A top prize of €15,000 is up for grabs together with a range of recording and broadcast opportunities.

This year’s jury will chaired by the director of the Vienna State Opera, Dominique Meyer.

Further details of how to apply including dates for all the preliminary rounds in 22 international locations can be found via the “Neue Stimmen” website.

Previous Competition participants who have gone on to achieve global recognition include René Pape, Melanie Diener and Angelika Kirchschlager.


Ben Heppner withdraws from The Met's Ring cycle

16 February 2011, New York, US

Ben Heppner
Ben Heppner(Photo: Kristin Hoebermann)

The leading Wagnerian heldentenor, Ben Heppner, has withdrawn from Robert LePage’s new Ring cycle production at The Metropolitan Opera.

He will be replaced by Gary Lehman and Stephen Gould for the company’s performances of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung during the 2011-12 Season.

The official reason given for Heppner’s decision is that he "has retired the role from his repertory," however commentators have suggested that a combination of recent illnesses plus stress could be to blame, making it difficult for him tackle the hugely demanding vocal part.

Heppner himself recently told the media prior to appearing in Lohengrin at LA Opera: "There have been some not-great moments in my more recent past,” adding defiantly, “I’m working through it”.


BBC Cardiff Singer of the World appoints new patron

16 February 2011, Cardiff, Wales

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Dame Kiri Te Kanawa(Photo: John Swannell)

New Zealand born soprano, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, has been appointed as the new patron of Cardiff Singer of the World.

She succeeds Dame Joan Sutherland, who passed away in October last year.

Te Kanawa’s appointment is seen as good news for the biannual competition, which recently announced a series of funding cuts by BBC Wales “due to challenging financial circumstances”.

Cardiff Singer of the World 2011 is due to take place at venues across the city between 12 and 19 June.

This year’s line-up of competitors will include the 28-year-old tenor, John Pierce, who won the Welsh Singers Competition 2010.


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