Can we start off with a moment of silence for the New York City Opera?
Thank you. They’re filing for bankruptcy today, after 70 years of being New York’s “other” opera company. George Steel, the General Director, is given most of the blame - - Richard puts the blame on the Board. In memory of the great Eydie Gormé, I’m going to blame it on the bossa nova! In all seriousness, I suspect it was a multi-faceted decline, made of a series of bad decisions. I hope someone writes a detailed account of the demise of the company, and hope that it’ll be required reading for students of arts administration. Don’t let this happen to you. Some of the greatest performances I’ve seen in my life have been at the City Opera, and I’m very sad that they’re gone.
This was their last production, the New York premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s *Anna Nicole*, which had its world premiere at Covent Garden in 2011. It’s an opera about Anna Nicole Smith. I told one of my coworkers that I was seeing it, and she said, “I can’t imagine why anyone would want to make an opera about her. She had no talent, she was just trash, she was just famous for being famous. I don’t understand it.” I said, “It’s a tragic story - - she’s the dark side of the American dream!”
It turns out we were both right. The opera showed her in all her trashy glory, and was also surprisingly touching. She had an aria in the first act, at the strip club right after she got her fake boobs, and it brought a tear to my eye. The opera portrayed her as a complex woman, which I expect took some serious doing. The libretto is by Richard Thomas, who also wrote the libretto to *Jerry Springer: The Opera*, which Richard and I saw with Karen Miller a few years ago, at Carnegie Hall, starring Harvey Keitel as Jerry Springer! Don’t worry, it was a speaking role.
*Anna Nicole* was flashy, the music had lots of verve - - I started to wonder if it was really an opera. This is a frequent criticism of new operas, that they’re really plays where people sing the whole time, or worse, movies set to music. The thing that makes an opera an opera is the fact that the story is told through the music - - *Anna Nicole* totally passes that test. It would completely hold its own on a recording.
Kudos to soprano Sarah Joy Miller as Anna, what appears to be her first starring role with a major opera company. She was fantastic in a very demanding role. Mezzo Susan Bickley made a strong impression as Anna’s mother. Robert Brubaker played her geezer husband - - he also played Mao in the Met’s *Nixon in China*. He was great in both, has a strong fearless voice, which is a big asset in a tenor. And Rod Gilfry played her lover/lawyer Howard K. Stern. This is the guy for whom the term “barihunk” might have been invented - - he played Stanley in the world premiere of *A Streetcar Named Desire*. Rrrrow.