Friday, February 18, 2011

John Paul Jones performs at Anna Nicole Smith's big reveal

By Brian Gardiner

Production photo:
Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera's "Anna Nicole" premiered Feb. 17 at London's Royal Opera House. Booked for six performances, Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones performed as part of an "onstage" jazz trio.

Composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage with libretto by Richard Thomas, the prospect of an opera on the life of the late Playboy centerfold seems unlikely. It is not, however, unheard of for an opera to be based on an actual person.

Mozart's "Don Giovanni" has a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, who as an ordained priest caroused with legendary womanizer Giacomo Casanova. The libretto for "Don Giovanni" was partially based on the life of Casanova. (The recent movie "I, Don Giovanni" was partially based on this connection.)

More than a century later, composer Francesco Cilea with a libretto by Arturo Colautti premiered "Adriana Lecouvreur" about an 18th century French actress. Its plot features love, anger, intrigue, greed and, finally, the heroine's death.

Novelist and opera aficionado/librettist Robertson Davies once wrote of John Corigliano's "The Ghosts of Versailles," "The plot is of a complexity that I think is dangerous in an opera." It's true that keeping an opera's theme simple allows the composer to let the music shine through. And all great operas are great musical works first and foremost.

Anna Nicole Smith's modern story is no less tragic of a story than topics mentioned above. Although her life is suitable to opera, was justice done through the music? The reviews are now coming in, and the verdict is unclear. The Independent notes "Anna Nicole" is:
often ironical beyond irony itself and delighting in the music of its own wordplay - would carry the day even if the score weren't as terrific as it is…
Production photo:
Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House
Sky News is less impressed, however:
Although the singing is fantastic and the Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek is excellent as the story's buxom, tragic heroine, the music is less memorable.
And while Eva-Marie Westbroek gets accolades in the bulk of the reviews, Zeppelin fans may be sure, the bassist in the jazz trio was pretty good as well. Reuters reports:
The production included an utterly believable re-creation of a lap-dancing club set in Smith's native Texas and a riotous, cocaine-fueled onstage party that featured a guest appearance by Led Zeppelin bass guitarist John Paul Jones, a long-time friend of the composer.

Jones turning up as part of a jazz trio gives only a small clue to the depth and breadth of Turnage's score for the 80-piece ROH orchestra, under the baton of conductor Antonio Pappano.
John Paul Jones on bass, and a big brassy blonde singer. Sounds like my kind of opera!

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