11 September 2014 at 3.51pm | Comment on this article
When it comes to partying, Anna Nicole's party scene leaves the likes of La traviata and La bohème looking like a teddy bears' picnic. Not for nothing does the libretto capitalize the jamboree as the 'PARTAY! scene'.
Composer Mark-Anthony Turnage and librettist Richard Thomas dish up the goods with lavish hedonism, but also ensure – almost as inevitably as the party itself – that the scene is laced with a healthy dose of despair.
The PARTAY! comes a short way into Act II. Anna has married her new husband, the octogenarian billionaire J. Howard Marshall II. Her reward is a ranch for her little son Daniel and enough painkillers, vodka and Jimmy Choo shoes to distract her from the crippling back pain, the consequence of her extensive breast augmentation.
The scene is nearly palindromic in structure. Turnage carefully delineates each section, and with each shift provides us a new glimpse of Anna's fate. It's all framed by a huge chorus – pretty much the entire cast, who pack the stage, crowding around the onstage three-piece band. Anna leads them all in a delirious back-and-forth exchange, sometimes naive, sometimes almost solemnly religious – but with the strongest sense that her audience has arrived.
Turnage kicks off with a bold syncopated theme in the trumpets. It's impressively simple, constructed as a four-bar question and answer, where the question and answer are almost mirror versions of each other. After we hear it the first time through, Anna and the chorus rapidly gabble at each other: 'Party till ya get laid, party till the drug raid, party till your brain fries, party till your youth dies.'
The chorus recedes into the background for the next section, a flirtatious duo between Anna and the lawyer Stern. Turnage builds an intimate, seedy feel through a scoring for sustained woodwind chords underpinned by an agitated bass guitar line, performed in the premiere run by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin. This is our first prolonged exposure to Stern; he made occasional appearances throughout Act I, but was always chased away by a furious chorus and affectionately dismissed by Anna as being too early – 'Get outta here, You're not on yet'. Now he is in his element for the first time, loving Anna, goading himself and her.
In the following central section Anna's mother Virgie enters, grasping little Daniel. She blazes recrimination and disgust, her fury tracked by a steadily ticking cymbal in the drum kit of the stage band. Anna is silent here, but the chorus now act on her behalf – whether as a mouthpiece or putting words in her mouth, we can't tell. They give Virgie the cold shoulder, bullying her off the stage as they blankly intone 'blah blah yadda yadda'.
As Virgie is shooed away, Anna's back and forth with the chorus returns, now up tempo, racing towards a heady proclamation of Anna as 'the patron saint of parties'. She finally adopts the simple tune we first heard on the trumpets as her own, in a fundamental declaration of her mantra: 'Live before you die, laugh before you weep, drink before you're sober, pass out before you sleep.' Stern interrupts her to urge 'to the camera!', underpinned by a new motif of a rapid trumpet ornament – another taste of the plague that will ruin Anna's life.
What happens next? J. Howard Marshall II has a heart attack, and Anna's lifelong battle for his inheritance begins. We'll hear an elongation of the simple trumpet melody in Anna's fury at the Marshall family's response, as she commands Stern to 'Crush them like a bug, Turn them inside out, Beat them like a pinata And watch my money fall out'. It's no longer PARTAY! – only a sour remnant of the party that always ends.
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