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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Context: Anna Nicole

Illustration by Nathan Gelgud
Anna Nicole runs at the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House from September 17—28. Context is everything, so get even closer to big, brash, blond spectacle with this curated selection of articles, videos, and original blog pieces related to the show. For those of you who've already seen it, help us keep the conversation going by telling us what you thought below.

From BAM

16 Ways to Annamate Your Life (BAM Blog)
How to Anna-Nicole your life in 16 animated gifs.

The Executive Files: Casting Pole Dancers for Anna Nicole (BAM Blog)
BAM Executive VP Alice Bernstein was on the front row for the ultimate Anna Nicole audition.

“Tragedy in Blonde” (BAM Blog)
Eternal themes of love, sex, and death meet Jimmy Choo shoes and boob jobs in this racy opera.

Behind the Scenes: Anna Nicole (
Librettist  Richard Thomas and soprano Sarah Joy Miller talk about what makes Anna Nicole Smith a great opera character.

The Making of Anna Nicole (
Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, librettist Richard Thomas, director Richard Jones, and choreographer Aletta Collins discuss Anna Nicole. Moderated by Elaine Padmore.

Around the Web

A Bittersweet Opening for Anna Nicole and City Opera (The New York Times)
Says Anthony Tommasini: "a production that should not be missed."

“So Outrageous” (New York Magazine)
Critic Justin Davidson relishes the unlikely subject matter and “manic highbrow burlesque” of Anna Nicole. 

“Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage: A Life in Music” (The Guardian)
Turnage discusses the origins of Anna Nicole, his working-class upbringing, and the shortcomings of X Factor.  

Anna Nicole at the New York City Pride Parade (Facebook)
Check out photos of BAM's glammed-up coup de parade.

Librettist Richard Thomas Brings Anna Nicole Back To Life On Stage (Theatermania)
"She's got a pure talent for pure fame, says Thomas of Anna Nicole Smith. "That's what was fascinating."

Interview with Richard Thomas (
The Anna Nicole librettist discusses making a career out of scandal, his dance review Shoes, and more.

Mark-Anthony Turnage on Anna Nicole (
“It was all so over the top it was perfect for an opera,” says Turnage. “You wouldn’t have believed it if you didn’t know it was true.”

Sarah Joy Miller Performs Verdi’s  “E Strano…Sempre Libera” (YouTube)
The soprano, who’ll be performing the role of Anna Nicole Smith, sings an aria from La Traviata.

Video Interview
Interview with Mark-Anthony Turnage (YouTube)
Turnage discusses his love of Stravinsky, being obsessed with the “visceral power” of Led Zepplin, and more.

Worthwhile Words

Mark-Anthony Turnage on opera:
I think opera will survive if it connects to “now”. I don’t mean it has to always be a CNN-opera but it has to engage with issues of contemporary relevance. Operas that don’t work for me are when they are reversioned from a great book or film with no life of their own – it is what Richard Jones describes as “classy snooze”. Audiences may find Anna Nicole provocative but they will certainly have an opinion about it. What I hope is that they’ll come to the opera with a preconceived view about who she was, and they may be surprised to leave with a different view. (read more

Now Your Turn . . .

So what's your verdict? Any feelings on the sets? The score? The cleavage? Have a favorite line from the raunchy libretto? Once you've seen the show, tell us what you thought in the comments below.


  1. I enjoyed the opera -- the production values were original and provocative. I also enjoyed Sarah Joy Miller's performance. She's the new wave of opera singers -- she can sing, is trim and can act. So did the other principals. A long way from the days when the male and female leads sang their arias to the audience instead of to each other.

    Very disappointed that you're discontinuing the BAM bus to Manhattan. I don't like taking the subway so late at night.

  2. As my first foray into modern opera, I was impressed with the theatricality and I appreciated the lack of shall we say stuffiness I equate with classic opera, as well as the ambition to tell more than just the rags to riches to body bag story (i.e., its commentary on the American Dream, reality TV, fame, etc.).

    As my first foray into modern opera, however, I was disappointed with the lack of musicality or musical lyricism. The notes seemed more like random placeholders for the lyrics than being the raison d'etre. As we left, my daughter said, "I can't recall a single melody or tune." The musical aspect seemed superfluous; the show would have worked just as successfully as a play. IMH and very untrained O.

  3. I have never been so offended by an opera in my life. I realized going in that this show with it's content was destined to be a train wreck. But I never expected the total vulgarity that was presented as art. I agree with the previous poster that there was no musicality to the music. My sister and I left at intermission, no need to sit through any more. It is hard to believe that this is the same company that put on Madama Butterfly three years ago, which will go down as my favorite staging of all time. Very disappointed.

  4. I thought this was one of the best theatrical experiences I have had in a long time. I want all my friends to see it. Yes, most modern operas do not have hummable melodies, but operas as far back as 100 years ago don't, either. I thought the music helped dramatize the action very well. Casting was great, too. We need more creative energy like this.


  6. Don't promise your work isn't going to be boring in the opening scene and then proceed to bore the shit out of the world. I wanted to zip myself into a body bag.

  7. Loved the staging, costumes and sets (yee haw neon and pole dancing) and could not take my eyes off Sarah Jo Miller and her most expressive hands. Agreed that the musicality seems lacking; not just that no tune stayed with me, but there seemed no thematic connection within the whole. However this work is classified, it was the experience we most want from BAM: engaging, challenging, talented and just enough out there to remind us why we don't live in Topeka. Honestly, I hope some people walk out in the middle of every BAM event; no one stomps out of the Ice Capades...

  8. We could have used Anna Nicole's attorney to sue BAM for false advertising. This is not an opera. Operas have music and librettos, both of which were absent from this production.

  9. I was extremely disappointed with the performance. If I were asked to watch this performance and didn’t know that I was supposed to be seeing an opera, I would have thought that I was seeing an off Broadway show. And don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy off Broadway shows. However this was not my expectation. I was expecting to see an opera with opera singing throughout the entire performance. There was very little to no opera singing in this performance and the sound was awful. I could hardly hear any of the vocals/singing and I was in the orchestra section row G so I had a relatively good seat. The ticket prices should be set based on how great of a performance one can expect to enjoy, sadly this was not the case. It’s very unfortunate as this was my first visit to BAM and I left very unimpressed.

  10. This was the worst performance I have ever seen-and I am including school recitals and the saw lady in the subway. If this is what the NY Opera plans to offer in the future, it should die a quick death.

    I am starting to wonder if Anna Nicole was meant to be a parody of opera, secretly composed by Daniel Tosh or some other mediocre comedian. As others have said, it had very little to do with an opera, and was more akin to a substandard Broadway musical. It is hard to say whether it was good or bad that the orchestra overpowered the singers, as the music was weak and had no overall tonal theme to connect to anything.

    In fact, the opera had no point at all-it didn't serve as a proper biopic since it skipped over her playboy days and most of her legal wranglings, she didn't serve as a tragic figure since she had no redeeming qualities and one could hardly care when she died, and if this was an attempt to comment on America's obsession with reality TV harlots, not only has that been explored to death, but the opera should have actually featured some of her fans and explore why they were so interested in her.

    And while I have no problem with vulgarity, it has to serve some dramatic or comedic purpose aside from attempting to shock and awe the audience.

    Sarah Joy Miller was also disappointing, although the fault was more of the score and direction and not her abilities. Her "Texan" accent was awful and it was even more jarring when she would slip in and out of the accent throughout the performance.

  11. I'm glad that we saw it-but I agree with others that the music could have been much better. My companion commented that every time the composer ran out of ideas, he compensated by ramping up the vulgarity. I'm actually surprised that the NY Times liked it as much as it did!

  12. It was a terrific evening. All the negative comments aside, BAM was filled to bursting with an audience that was enjoying every moment. Over the top? Absolutely. But the real Anna was
    way over the top. And as a subject for opera -- she was perfect --a tragic ending. Time to shake out the opera cobwebs and open minds to something different. It brought me back to Brooklyn and I can't wait to see what's next at BAM

  13. I thought it was just average, OK but a waste of $170.

  14. It was a great production and it was wonderful seeing Sarah Joy Miller in the role of Anna Nicole. The only I didn't like wasn't about the performance, it was the seating in BAM. For the amount of money charged, the seats should be more comfortable and their should be more legroom.

  15. My partner and I see operas at The Met regularly so this was definitely a welcome change of pace. He's an opera lover of many years and I'm fairly new to it. Why do opera purists have to be so stuck in their ways? We loved the Anna Nicole opera. After we got used to hearing modern English sung in opera style, we submitted ourselves to it and were swept up in Nicole's tragic story. Very well done NYC opera. Thank you BAM for being such a gracious host.

  16. I enjoyed it immensely although I felt the music fell a bit flat at times, and I was expecting a beautiful, sad aria at the end which never really happened, not in the way I anticipated. All in all though I'd say this production is well worth seeing!

  17. I thought the first act was kind of fun, and one could put aside the drab, modernist harmonic language which was utterly wrong for the subject matter and even the sophomoric attempts at shocking the opera audience with descriptions of blowjobs, boob jobs, what have you because the timing of the jokes was often spot on, and the constant variety of choruses, quartets, arias (OK, only one true aria, let's say "solos") was pretty fun and even aurally dazzling at times. But you can't spend an act making fun of the crazy Texan hicks and then expect to be able to suddenly veer towards the tragic in Act II and expect anyone to care about the characters. I don't know if this failure to develop empathy for the characters was the result of an English composer's disdain for American vulgarity and lifestyle or simply because the composer, like almost every composer from across the pond, is mortally afraid of being even remotely sincere lest his work be described by the cerebrally motivated and emotionally unavailable critics as sentimental and shallow. But feeling something is what opera is all about, and this opera will not survive on the merits of its cunt and tit jokes. One returns to a work because of the power of its emotions, or because you just want to hear this part or that part again because it was SO GREAT. I felt nothing, and I want to hear nothing again.

  18. My husband and I thought it was terrific. Powerful staging and casting. Much better acting than usually found at an opera performance. Very depressing story, as in most operas, but the audience was definitely drawn into a different world.
    We wish that the NYC Opera could find a home at BAM. The city needs edgier fare than typically found in the big venues in Manhattan.