Shockingly, You’ll Either Love or Hate the Anna Nicole Smith Opera

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The rise and fall of Anna Nicole Smith — perfect fodder for an opera? Apparently.

“Anna Nicole” saw its world premiere at the Royal Opera House in London this week, giving the story of the stripper-turned-model-turned cautionary tale a high-art spin. Soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek stars as Smith, Alan Oke plays her billionaire husband, J. Howard Marshall II, and Gerald Finley portrays Howard K. Stern, her lawyer.

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Critics have given the show generally positive feedback. Many reviews praise Westbroek’s high-energy performance, but don’t think it’s a show that can survive through the ages. After all, Smith’s fame was ephemeral, so how could her story remain timeless?

Though Smith lived her life as a caricature of herself, the show doesn’t ridicule her. Rupert Christiansen at the Telegraph points out the opera straddles the line between poignant and humorous, writing,”It’s often very funny, but it’s not just a crude farce with a downbeat ending: I think it is underpinned by genuine compassion for Anna Nicole and genuine scorn for the forces that mould, and then destroy her.”

It was this compassion, though, that led Anne Midgette from the Washington Post to roll her eyes and write, “By deliberately opting for a TV-biopic approach, it became the latest entry in the lists of failed biographical operas: It presented such events like items on a checklist, acted out by two-dimensional characters that never – despite a fine cast – came to life.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the reviews for this opera are mixed. After all, people either loved Smith for her camp value or hated her for her impact on celebrity culture. Why have a uniform opinion when her story comes to life on stage?

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