Anna Nicole Smith Opera Wows Critics in London


An opera on the tragic life of former Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith premiered at London's prestigious Royal Opera House and was applauded by critics early Friday.

"Anna Nicole" charts the tumultuous life and death of the former glamor model who first hit the world's headlines in 1994 when she married 89-year-old oil tycoon J Howard Marshall.

"It’s often very funny, but it’s not just a crude farce with a downbeat ending," the Telegraph's Rupert Christiansen said.

"It is underpinned by genuine compassion for Anna Nicole and genuine scorn for the forces that mould, and then destroy her.

Marshall died in 1995, sparking a long and acrimonious battle over the multi-millionaire's fortune. The Texas born stripper died of a drug overdose in 2007 aged 39.

Dutch soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek was lauded by Christiansen for playing the lead role "with inexhaustible energy...which never strikes a false note of sentimentality."

Jessica Duchen, the Independent's reviewer, was equally enthusiastic after witnessing "the most hotly anticipated night in contemporary opera in years."

"It's a tremendous show, fast-paced, spare and concentrated," Duchen wrote. "She's not only a tragic heroine: she the rise and fall of western excess itself.

"Westbroek is a startlingly innocent Anna, caught in demoniac forces...beyond her control," she added.

The central London venue is one of the most famous opera houses in the world, but is better known for showcasing the talents of Verdi and Mozart rather than topless models.

The opera is the creation of British composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and lyricist Richard Thomas, who upset Christian groups in 2003 with his contribution to production "Jerry Springer: The Opera."

"She wasn't just this dumb blonde," Turnage told CNN. "Her life touches on so many things, it seemed to encapsulate the 21st century."

The opera lingers on the death of Smith's son, Daniel, who died of a suspected drug overdose in 2006 while visiting his mother and newly-born half-sister in a Bahamas hospital.

"It's a very universal story," Thomas told CNN. "I wanted to tell a story about a single mom. She makes some good choices. She makes some bad choices. Then she runs out of choices.

"It is a rags-to-riches story and a cautionary tale all chucked into a blender and whooshed up with three bags of sugar and two bottles of tequila and poured over a two-hour time frame," Thomas added.

Elaine Padmore, director of opera at the Royal Opera House, called Smith’s story "an opera for our times."