Feb 21, 2011

Such stuff as dreams are made on

“Anna Nicole,” by the British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and the British librettist Richard Thomas, finally had its premiere here at the Royal Opera on Thursday night before a sold-out house with standees everywhere. And it proved a weirdly inspired work, an engrossing, outrageous, entertaining and, ultimately, deeply moving new opera... Turnage and Thomas have given us a tragic operatic heroine, a downtrodden nobody determined to make it, to “rape the American dream,” as she puts it, any way she can. Their Anna Nicole is in the lineage of Bizet’s Carmen, Berg’s Lulu and the Weill-Brecht Jenny... There are flashes of Weill in the clattering cabaretlike scenes in which the reporters, wielding microphones, mutter like a Greek chorus; and jazzy sneering brass writing in the scene with the dancers at the “gentlemen’s club” in Houston... “Anna Nicole” can probably claim to be breaking new ground in the scene in which Anna Nicole receives breast-implant surgery from the fast-talking Doctor Yes (a vibrant Andrew Rees). ... a musically rich, audacious and inexplicably poignant work." — New York Times
Nobody could be happier than I at this show's success. I thought Nicole Smith was hideously treated by the old gentlemen of the press, all of them elbowing and kicking to be first in line to first oggle her and then call her "famous for being famous." Is there a more bonehead phrase? It's got all the sound of sense, while making none. It's only ever applied to women whose lascivious hold on the writer must be avenged in the form of cheap insult dressed up as analysis: "famous for being famous" is another way of saying "bimbo" for those too frightened of being called sexist. Like many who attract the label, Nicole-Smith was famous for perfectly explicable reasons. She was famous for her great beauty, as first showcased in a series of adverts for Guess jeans which made great play of her Vargas-blonde looks and retrofitted chassis, harkening as both did to the great bombshell era of the 1950s. Anyone who doesn't understand why great beauty, allied to nostalgia for America's greatest decade, wouldn't make someone famous need to go back to grad school and reread Daniel Boorstein's The Image. The spectre of undeserved fame is only ever invoked by people who don't understand what fame is. 'Famous just for being famous' describes everyone in the public spotlight, inertia being one of fame's principle properties. All fame is undeserved, in the sense that it bears no intrinsic relation to the reasons for that fame. The people who recognise Albert Einstein's image no more understand relativity theory than the people who recognise Anna Nicole-Smith's image can intuit from it the history of Guess jeans. Einstein's fame is not worth more than hers. His achievements may be, but his fame is worth exactly the same. It's the same substance — the same dumb stuff. Now, some lecherous old newspaperman may wish to diss his own lust and judge theoretical science a more worthy cause than great beauty — not my priorities, you understand, although I hear tell of such people — then so be it, but if Nicole-Smith is "famous for being famous" but then so too is Einstein. That old bimbo, Albie Einstein.


  1. that is probably the best little dissertation on the nature of celebrity that I've ever read! It's amazing what a combination brevity and a little honesty can bring.

  2. Thanks so much, it's a subject close to my heart. It offends me that it's always women that get it in the neck for being famous, never the men.