'and the Crowd (wept)': Jade Goody becomes latest celebrity to inspire opera


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The Independent Culture

From the day she burst onto television screens as a Big Brother contestant in 2002, Jade Goody’s life resembled one long soap opera.

From her struggles with fame and cheating boyfriends to race rows and eventually her death, most of her adult life was played out in the public spotlight.

So perhaps it is fitting that the dental nurse who became Britain’s biggest reality star is to be the subject of the latest in a recent spate of celebrity-inspired stage operas.

The work, entitled and the Crowd (wept), has been more than three years in the making, and was written by playwright Afsaneh Gray, with the score composed by Erick Flores. It is directed by Pia Furtado, who has worked on pieces performed by Opera North and the Royal Opera, and is being conducted by the editor of Live Music at BBC Radio 3, Adam Gatehouse.

Ms Gray said she was inspired to write the opera by the insatiable press coverage of, and the public reaction, to Goody’s battle with cervical cancer, which she succumbed to in 2009 aged just 27.

“I was a medical secretary just at the time when Jade Goody got ill with cancer, and the two women I was working with were coming in everyday with The Sun and OK! magazine,” Ms Gray recalled. “And they took really opposing ideas of her. One was like: ‘Poor Jade she’s a mother-of-two and she’s dying of cancer.’ And the other was like: ‘She’s a racist, she deserves everything she gets.’ Everyone has an opinion about her.”

Ms Gray said the “heightened drama” of Goody’s story lent itself perfectly to the medium of opera.

Three female singers take turns playing the parts of Goody, as well as one critical and one sympathetic commentator.

A narrator also appears in the background, telling the story of Goody’s journey from notorious Big Brother contestant to national tragedy.

“The fairytale narrative is that there’s this girl who always looks up to the heavens and dreams of being a star. And the final conceit is that she becomes a star, but it’s not what she wanted,” says Gray. “I think it’s quite moving.”

The Goody opera comes just two years after an operatic biography of another flawed tabloid favourite, the Playboy model Anna Nicole-Smith, opened in Covent Garden.

Anna Nicole: The Opera proved a controversial undertaking even before it hit the stage, dogged by threats of legal action and complaints that it was in poor taste.

Ms Gray insists that while she expects comparisons, the two productions are markedly different.

She said: “I enjoyed Anna Nicole, but this is very different. That was very much the story of that woman and this is very much the story of celebrity.”

Gray said she had attempted to get in touch with Goody's widower Jack Tweed and Jade’s family members through Twitter but had failed to receive a reply.

“I really want to invite them,” she added.

And the Crowd (wept) is playing over two nights, on 1 and 2 August, at the ‘Tete a Tete’ opera festival being staged at the Riverside Studios in west London

Lowering the tone: Daring operas

Anna Nicole: Mark-Anthony Turnage’s tale of sex, celebrity and scandal was first performed at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to lukewarm reviews. The show transferred to the US earlier this year.

Jerry Springer: The Opera: The Christian Institute tried to prosecute the BBC, claiming blasphemy. The show ran for 609 performances between 2003 and 2005 and won four Laurence Olivier Awards.

Gaddafi: A Living Myth: The English  National Opera’s 2006 attempt to “redefine” opera provoked fears of an in-house attack after the Libyan leader responded: “Terror and war are the ultimate theatre.”