Heads up: Anna Nicole

An aria of sex, drugs, gold-digging and tragedy
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

What are we talking about?

The life and times of Anna Nicole Smith – Playboy model, reality TV star and octogenarian billionaire's wife, who died of a drug overdose at 39 – are given the operatic treatment in a world premiere at the Royal Opera House next month.

Elevator pitch

Anna's aria of sex, drugs and gold-digging.

Prime movers

Tony Hall, ROH's chief exec, who asked composer Mark-Anthony Turnage to come up with a contemporary subject. Librettist Richard Thomas, who promises to bring his skill at tackling celebrity culture and pushing the boundaries of taste into play (he's best known for Jerry Springer: The Opera). Richard Jones directs, while the ROH's musical director Antonio Pappano conducts.

The Stars

Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek stars as Anna Nicole, while Alan Oke (who played Gandhi in Phillip Glass's 2007 opera Satyagraha) takes on the role of the, ahem, love interest, "Old Man Marshal".

The early buzz

Anna Nicole featured in many a 2011 look-ahead list, the "extreme language, drug abuse and sexual content" promised – sorry, warned of – in the promotional material proving irresistible. The writer Peter Conrad has suggested that while The Royal Opera is "expecting and counting on a fuss...no one should dispute Turnage's choice of subject. The gaudily uninhibited Anna Nicole belongs in opera." Feminist website Jezebel doesn't agree: "From the creators of Jerry Springer: The Opera comes a similar treatment for Anna Nicole Smith. Except, unlike Springer, she's dead. Which makes this all feel a little awkward."

Insider knowledge

Director of opera at the ROH, Elaine Padmore, says it will be more parable than documentary; a "larger-than-life American story". Think Puccini's Girl of the Golden West, apparently.

It's great that...

It will also be televised on BBC4

It's a shame that...

We don't know more about the precise plot details. The ROH is rumoured to be nervous about the possibility of legal action from those represented in the production who are still living.

Hit potential

Already selling well. May face accusations of cheap popularism, controversy courting, or cashing in on celebrity obsession – or may emerge as a biting comment on the topic. Oh, and the pole-dancing should help too.

The details

Anna Nicole is at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2, (020 7304 4000; roh.org.uk), 17 Feb to 4 Mar.