A Most Unlyrical Diva
Anna Nicole Smith may have been a sexy prima donna, a Playboy Bunny, and a TV celebrity. Yet is she worthy of an opera? Even referring to her as a diva, unlyrical or not, is a blot on the noble title of "diva" altogether. By definition, a diva is an operatic goddess. A prima donna, on the other hand, is merely the leading female soloist in an opera, or any performer who is temperamental and conceited, as Ms. Smith certainly was. Yet she was no diva. The media portrayed her at various times as an American femme fatale, a trophy wife, a courtesan, a drug addict with a lifelong eating disorder, and an uninhibited vulgarian with a vast vocabulary of scatological expletives.
Courtesans and fallen women have always been favorite subjects of painters, authors, and opera librettists. Yet when I think of Bizet's Celeste Mogador (who wrote novels), poetess Veronica Franco, and the many gifted singers, dancers, actresses (for example, Sarah Bernhardt and Coco Chanel), whose lives also came from tawdry beginnings, I doubt that I could appreciate an opera about Ms. Smith,--- unless Mr. Turnage's orchestral score and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek's singing is so wonderful that I could just listen to the music. Nonetheless, with the ROH director's warning that Richard Thomas's libretto contains "extreme language, drug abuse and sexual content," I foresee a mass exodus of disgusted opera lovers, including myself, who believe that extreme profanity has no place on the opera stage.
(Retired violinist of the Met Opera Orchestra)