The opera charts the real-life story of the title character from her humble origins to her arrival as a global media celebrity through her tragic death. The company features Eva-Maria Westbroek in the title role, as well as Alan Oke (Old Man Marshall), Gerald Finley (The Lawyer Stern), Susan Bickley (Virgie), Loré Lixenberg (Cousin Shelley), Peter Hoare (Larry King), Rebecca de Pont Davies (Aunt Kay), Dominic Rowntree (Older Daniel), Allison Cook (Blossom), Andrew Rees (Doctor), Grant Doyle (Billy), Wynne Evans (Mayor), ZhengZhong Zhou§ (runner), Jeremy White (Daddy Hogan), Dominic Peckham (Gentleman), Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts (Trucker), and Damian Thantrey (Deputy Mayor), as well as Yvonne Barclay, Amy Catt, Amanda Floyd, Katy Batho, Kiera Lyness, Marianne Cotterill, Louise Armit, Andrea Hazell, John Parricelli, John Paul Jones, and Peter Erskine.
The creative team includes scenic designer Miriam Buether, costume designer Nicky Gillibrand, co-lighting designers Mimi Jordan Sherin and D M Wood, and choreographer Aletta Collins.
Reviews have appeared in print and online on both sides of the Atlantic and critics have been widely divided on the merits of Turnage's score and Thomas' libretto. There is, however, almost uniform admiration for Westbroek's portrayal of the title character and Alan Oke's turn as her elderly husband, as well as for many in the supporting cast.
Among the reviews are:
Anna Nicole opera gets lost in its own froth
"Anna Nicole is a jolly, bawdy romp and lots of laughs: a fairground ride of a piece. But does it make a durable and lasting contribution to the repertory? Perhaps not."
"[M]uch of the music, which is uncommonly tonal and tuneful for Turnage, is parodistic - of jazz, of Broadway, of all things transatlantic (including Aaron Copland), and an inexplicable amount of Britten (to the point of near-quotation). Some of the best and most alluring moments in the score - and there ARE alluring moments - come out of these parodies, a good example being a set-piece ballad in Act I with a melodic shape so close to Sondheim he should sue. But parody works best when it's as alive and fresh as the original. And Turnage's parody only rarely catches that originating life."
"There are two wonderful supporting acts from Alan Oke as the old man Anna marries, and from Gerald Finley as the dodgy lawyer she ends up with. And beyond them, it's a real ensemble effort with some joyous cameos (I particularly liked the breast-enhancement surgeon, gloriously sung by Andrew Rees) and spunky playing from the orchestra under Antonio Pappano."
Anna Nicole opera a trite night wasted
"Anna Nicole is not an opera. It's a musical-theatrical hybrid, so simplistic in its construction and vocal scoring, so cheap in its pseudo-sexual thrills and narcotic spills, that it wastes an opera house's resources. A tragedy indeed: music director Antonio Pappano, dramatic soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek and a large, talented ensemble have little to show for their efforts...."
First Night: Anna Nicole, Royal Opera House
"Shocking it isn't; stunning it is. No, you don't see the oral sex scene ("There ain't no such thing as a free ranch"...), but you do see the humanity. Eva-Maria Westbroek is a startlingly innocent Anna, caught in demonic forces (Gerald Finley as lawyer Stern) beyond her control."
"With Tony Pappano in the driving seat, the orchestra and jazz band together pack a punch in Turnage's rhythmic score, punching out the jazz and blues enhancing the edgy but somehow edible atonality that is so characteristic of him."
"It's a tremendous show, fast-paced, spare and concentrated, tagged with references such as Marshall (a passionate, warm-voiced Alan Oke) as an armchair deus ex machina, and replete with layers of laughter and lighting of imagination and colourful wonders - accolades to Mimi Jordan Sherin and D M Wood for this last."
Los Angeles Times
Opera review: Anna Nicole premieres in London's Royal Opera House
"Turnage's score has its fine patches. He begins with the opening of "Hammered Out" and comfortably slips between jazz, pop and pleasingly textured instrumental riffs. Words are set to be understood. An opening chorus reminded me of the style of Leonard Bernstein's musical/opera hybrid Trouble in Tahiti."
"Could "Anna" come home to America? I would like to think that with the example of John Adams and Peter Sellars, Americans might object to the opera's lack of a woman's point of view and its general dismissal of substance. But it is the libretto's toilet talk that will probably be a deal breaker with any major company."
New York Times
Opera Reimagines a Tabloid Sensation
"Ideally, opera is supposed to be the ultimate collaborative art form, and "Anna Nicole" met that ideal. At 50, Mr. Turnage, whose modernist music is brashly accessible and run through with jazz, has written a pulsing, wild and, when called for, yearning score."
"[Mr. Thomas] and Mr. Turnage sensitively navigate the terrain of Anna Nicole's chaotic and sadly pathetic life, which ended in 2007 at 39, a result of a fatal mixture of drugs. They lend Ms. Smith vulnerability without covering over her crassness."
"And Anna Nicole revels shamelessly in the crass, sleazy side of American culture, which may be too easy a target. The London audience ate it up. But so did I, because in the end this is a musically rich, audacious and inexplicably poignant work."
Anna Nicole, Royal Opera House, London
"Thomas's text [...] is banal, offering the characters no more than a cartoonish one-dimensionality and presenting the action in a sequence of cliches. At his best, a major talent, Turnage here seems content to set the libretto without giving it the resonance or ambiguity that might have humanised it or deepened its moral outlook. The style blends various pop/jazz idioms into a classical frame, but the parodies are unmemorable and little of the score registers with distinction."
"Remarkable, though, is Eva-Maria Westbroek's presentation of Anna Nicole, wearing her tawdriness with flair, and Alan Oke's J Howard Marshall II, who comes over, rather surprisingly, as the most sympathetic character in a heartless piece."
"[Turnage's] music has always been influenced by Jazz and Blues, but given the episodic nature of the work I had expected a stronger musical voice to emerge. For the most of the night the music chugs along as a mere backdrop to what's happening on stage and I think the main problem is that Anna Nicole doesn't know what it wants to be. It lacks the 'tunes' to be called a musical, but lacks the emotional depth to be called an opera so it remains floundered in a no-man's land somewhere in between the two."
"[Westbroek's] portrayal of Anna Nicole was quite simply stunning. Not only did she sing brilliantly all evening but managed to convey all the character traits of the model turned money grabbing 'ho' to perfection. As ever she was a riveting stage presence, no mean feat given that she was on stage for the entire evening."
"As her billionaire husband Alan Oke gave a tour de force performance whilst there was able support from Gerald Finley as the lawyer Stern, although the character remained resolutely one-dimensional, and Susan Bickley as Nicole's mother."