Mark-Anthony Turnage, Anna Nicole (Royal Opera House, cond. Antonio Pappano)
Few composers are more intrepid than Mark-Anthony Turnage. He doesn’t baulk at the idea of four-letter words, and indeed is happy to conjugate them In his most recent opera, Anna Nicole for the Royal Opera House, the audience are treated to an evening of contrasting halves. The work clips along at a remarkable pace. The first – instrumentally sounds like it is from the same book as Britten’s Paul Bunyan –the representation of the hope of the American Dream in cheery tones and melodies; the second is a descent into despair, and is more ‘operatic’ – the words and notes are longer, more repetitive. Without a doubt, this is highly enjoyable – you will laugh which is fine, because that was the idea.
Stand aside gentle Hogart: this is a Rake’s Progress for our age. And it’s far from gentle. Anna wants the sound of Jimmy Choos on red carpet and will do anything to get it: erotic dancing, plastic surgery, ‘gold digging’ and exposure. On the day the media responded with fervour to the trial of Oscar Pistorious – or rather its verdict, it seemed apt to watch the self-destruction and ‘suspicious’ death of a son in his mother’s arms. One could certainly draw parallels – the media obsession at least.
An all-star cast is used for this revival. Regrettably, the brevity of a revival rehearsal period shows: nobody seemed quite sure what to do with their hands. But it sounded spelndi. Eva-Maria Westbroek led the charge. It might not be the longest opera, but it is almost all singing (a three-bar overture and short interlude excepted). It needed a cast – or chorus – of many. The orchestra made a biggish sound – but I did not see in to the pit.
Susan Bickley made a very fine mother to Anna – this gave her a chance to shine – hovering around the leading lady as she did to Brunnhilde as Waltraute for Opera North this year. It seemed a shame to have the magnificent Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts hold such a small role, butit was done very well. Rod Gilfry sang a creepy opportunistic and slick Stern. Alan Oke proved yet again why he is one of the
foremost singers of his generation.
The weakest voice was Jason Broderick’s, as the injured teenage Daniel – his acting was up to scratch however, and one was reminded of Wagner’s dictum about preferring actors who couldn’t sing to singers who couldn’t act. The brochure indicates this was his debut, previously having been on the television & c. – so a little charity might not be unreasonable here.
We all crave something (more opera tickets perhaps?); it's what you are prepared to do for it that matters. If you did opt for more opera tickets, there is much to tempt in the forthcoming season. I am looking forward to the Trsitan and the Andrea Chenier. Something for the dark months.
Overall: you will laugh, but probably not cry.
A revival of the ROH production opened the 2014-15 Winter Season. No cinema relay, but this production available on disc – the only available recording. Further performances 13, 16, 18, 20, 24 September.