I make it no secret that I seek out some weird media content. I'm just fascinated by what other people think are great ideas that just come across as bizarre. We're not talking about merely writing a novel from the perspective of a lost teddy bear or still insisting on releasing a novel about a town enclosed in a glass dome after The Simpsons did it. We're talking operettas based on French period satire novels and setting a horror musical about high school in a blank white box. In this, the inaugural Bizarre, but True post, I have to jump on board the Anna Nicole train of "really?" coverage.
Anna Nicole is an original opera from librettist Richard Thomas and composer Mark-Anthony Turnage based on the life of supermodel turned reality star turned diet pill spokeswoman Anna Nicole Smith. Unlike similarly absurd concept Jerry Springer: The Opera, Anna Nicole is a serious opera with dramatic heft. Don't let the lyrics about "I want to blow you all" or "the sound of Jimmy Choos on the red carpet" fool you; word has it the libretto balances between absurdity and legitimacy with clever and believable lyrics. The music is backed by a proper orchestra and a jazz ensemble throughout the running time. The bits and pieces I've heard sound rather good.
Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage has made a career out of letting jazz bleed into otherwise traditional orchestral and choral music. He's best known for his opera Greek, based on Oedipus the King. Richard Thomas composed the music to the aforementioned Jerry Springer: The Opera, which explains a lot. That show was also raunchy, outrageous, controversial, and surprisingly deep, intelligent, and worldly for a show based off such a trashy subject. Together, the team worked to beef up the dramatic heft of Anna Nicole's life, including much content related to her lengthy legal battle over her inheritance from her late husband.
The reviews are split right down the middle, even if all the critics so far have praised the lyrics. Some have said the production soars; others say the show doesn't pick up until the second act which is far too long to wait for substance. But does it matter? When your show already weathered lawsuits before it even opened and can legitimately be called "controversial" in advertising content, can bad or mixed reviews do anything to stop the audience from gawking? No. It's especially true when the Royal Opera House engagement is playing for only a handful of performances. This will surely go down as another bizarre London production that people bring up as a badge of honor in opera and theater going crowds.