Enter, stage right: Nick Griffin, the really creepy opera
Bonnie Greer inspired to write show after sitting next to the party leader on 'Question Time'
One was a pneumatic Playboy model; the other is the leader of the BNP.
Now Nick Griffin is set to follow in Anna Nicole Smith's footsteps when he becomes the inspiration for an opera at Covent Garden.
Following the success of Anna Nicole Smith: The Opera earlier this year, the Royal Opera House is to stage the new commission in November. It has been written by the critic and playwright Bonnie Greer. The idea came about after Greer sat next to Griffin on Question Time in October 2009. She described the experience as "probably the weirdest and most creepy experience of my life".
The BNP leader spent much of the show defending his views against a barrage of criticism, leaving the Chicago-born playwright with a quiet moment in which to draw inspiration.
It was then that the idea for Yes, an opera about the experience, entered her mind. Soon after, the ROH commissioned her to write the libretto, with music by Errollyn Wallen.
It is the first time that two black women have collaborated on a new work at Covent Garden. Yes lasts only one hour and will be performed at the ROH's Linbury Studios. The show centres on the two-week period running up to that episode of Question Time, the BBC panel show hosted by David Dimbleby.
Greer says she had "no idea" what she was signing up to when she agreed to appear next to Griffin, who had recently been elected to the European Parliament. The decision by the BBC to invite him on to the show provoked a fierce response, with protests staged outside Television Centre. The episode was watched by almost eight million people, the largest audience in its 32-year history.
Greer's stock rose after she managed to remain calm as she debated race issues while sitting next to a rather excitable Griffin, who did his best to play down his views on race and repatriation. In writing the opera, Greer said she has tried to articulate what the experience taught her. The show will have a new relevance following last month's massacre in Norway, which was racially motivated.
"I think the English Defence League is symptomatic of a crisis of identity of place, loss of power and influence and fear," says Greer. "Unless societies tackle this, it is going to be more dangerous. The people who want to talk about it are not in power."
Musical numbers in the opera include an Asian teacher in a hijab singing about the history of the UK from 1066, and the song of a white working-class man weary of hearing about diversity.
"This government has decided that multicultural is evil," says Greer. "This is where art and culture comes in. It can go where people are too afraid to go – it can pose questions without answers. That's what this opera does – it allows you to see states of being. People now want to hear what people are feeling and the depths of that visceral feeling. That is what I attempt to capture."
The BNP said last night that it had contacted Greer offering help with the opera: "But we haven't heard back from her. We are looking forward to it."
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