Marilyn Opera in Vienna

First produced in Banff, Canada back in 2010, then in Long Beach, California in 2015, Marilyn Forever – an opera by composer Gavin Bryars and librettist Marilyn Bowering (based on her 1987 poetry collection, Anyone Can See I Love You) – makes its European debut in English with German surtitles at the Schwarzenbergplatz Casino in Vienna on selected dates from April 13-May 2nd.  Rebecca Babb-Nelsen  stars as Marilyn.

“Starting from the last night in the life of Marilyn Monroe, 5 August 1962, the scenes of the opera unfold in front of the audience like pieces of a puzzle that together make up the myth of Marilyn: moments of her life, set pieces from her poems, her relationship with Arthur Miller, the identities of the orphan Norma Jeane and the fictional character Marilyn, the discrepancy between their personal ideals of love and artistry and the outward appearance of the sex symbol. The eight-member chamber orchestra is complemented by a jazz trio on stage.”

Marilyn Forever: Musings on an American Icon

Marilyn Forever : Musings on an American Icon by the Stars of Yesterday and Today is a new collection of quotes about Marilyn, compiled by author Boze Hadleigh. Those who knew and worked with Marilyn are featured here, alongside a wide range of public figures from past to present. Marilyn Forever is illustrated with around twenty full-page photos, all well-known. Hadleigh has researched his subject thoroughly, as many of the comments in this book were new to me. Not all of these are flattering to Marilyn, and some are highly speculative, but overall the tone is sympathetic.

My main criticism is that Hadleigh, who has written several books about gays and lesbians in classic Hollywood, seems determined to include Marilyn in their number, though in reality the evidence of anything more than curiosity on her part is rather scant. He focuses in particular on her close relationship with drama coach Natasha Lytess. Hadleigh also devotes several pages to the scandal of Marilyn’s nude calendar, framing her as a pioneer of the sexual revolution. While this may be true, there are other remarkable aspects of her life which are lesser known.

Nonetheless, Marilyn Forever is not overly sensationalised. When discussing the rumours about Marilyn and the Kennedys, Hadleigh gives equal weight to those who believe the allegations and other, more sceptical opinions. A brief epilogue features quotes from Marilyn herself, and I was relieved not to see any of the misattributed remarks which have become so rife on the internet in recent years. Marilyn Forever is well worth adding to your library, and I hope Boze Hadleigh will now consider writing a sequel, based on Marilyn’s own words.

Marilyn at 90: Fans Pay Tribute

Westwood photos by Jackie Craig

Floral tributes were left by Marilyn’s crypt at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles on what would be her 90th birthday, while devoted fans like Monica Shahri visited in person.

Canadian fan Billy made a heart-shaped card for Marilyn…

And there was cake too, courtesy of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (the team behind the Golden Globes.)

The L.A.-based fanclub, Marilyn Remembered, organised a donation to Hollygrove, the former children’s home where Marilyn once lived.  Now known as EMQ Families First, the charity  has launched a new fundraising drive, ‘Modern Marilyn‘.

Immortal Marilyn listed 90 Marvellous Marilyn Moments on their blog, and compiled a fan-focused tribute video. In Bendigo Park, Australia, staff member Marisa left a memento at the feet of Seward Johnson’s giant sculpture,  ‘Forever Marilyn‘.

Many other fansites, like All About Marilyn and Marilyn Mexico, were also in celebratory mood.

Mexico loves Marilyn…

Snapchat users (including reality TV star Kim Kardashian) got busy with a special Marilyn Monroe filter…

The Milton Greene Archive shared this previously unpublished photo of Marilyn with a canine friend, originally taken for a Life magazine spread on Asian gowns in 1955.

The estate of Sam Shaw remembered a ‘dear friend.’

Two of Marilyn’s most respected biographers, Michelle Morgan and Gary Vitacco-Robles, paid their respects via social media.

 

Novelist Megan Abbott chose her favourite photo of Marilyn.

The estate of Humphrey Bogart also remembered her fondly…

Artists Alejandro Mogollo and Ileana Hunter shared Marilyn-inspired pieces.

Everlasting Star admin Sirkuu Aaltonen went on a book hunt

And UK superfan Megan posted a touching tribute on her personal blog.

“Another year has gone by and Marilyn’s star keeps growing brighter and brighter, people are still fascinated and enthralled by this beautiful soul. Did Marilyn have her faults? Of course she did, it’s hard to believe, I know, but she was a human being just like us. I love Marilyn for Marilyn and that will never change. I’d like to think that there are more genuine fans who love and respect Marilyn than conspiracy lovers who just follow their ignorance.”

‘Marilyn Forever’: The Critics’ Verdict

The Long Beach premiere of Gavin Bryars’ opera, Marilyn Forever, has attracted a lot of media coverage. Poet Marilyn Bowering, who wrote the libretto, spoke to the Hollywood Reporter:

“Back in the late-1980s, Bowering was approached by a TV producer, who also happened to be named Marilyn, about collaborating on an unspecified project. Nothing ever came of it until the producer finally said, ‘My name’s Marilyn. Your name’s Marilyn. What about Marilyn Monroe?’ Out of that partnership came Anyone Can See I Love You, a series of Monroe’s interior monologues dramatized for BBC Radio and later reworked as a collection of poems.

Apart from being blessed with acting talent and ethereal beauty, Monroe had an intangible quality that made an indelible mark on the popular psyche. Bowering thinks it may have to do with a period in her adolescence spent living with her aunt Ana Lower, who introduced Monroe to the Church of Christian Science, where she remained a follower for eight years.

‘That teaching, which kind of puts you in charge of how you see the world and the world is made of love, had a real influence on her and made her this unusual person who didn’t seem to feel guilt about her sexuality,’ says Bowering. ‘It fed into this kind of idealism about love. There was an absolute kind of love, which would never be achievable and would turn out disastrously in real life, but there’s a sense she was always searching for these kind of ideals.’

Drawing on his early days as a jazz bassist, Bryars (who will sit in on bass for the March 21 performance) incorporates mid-century jazz melodies in his opera, sometimes referencing pop songs of the era. ‘Marilyn was a product of popular film and music,’ says Bryars about creating what director Andreas Mitisek calls ‘a meta-world reflecting on her life, career and relationships.’

‘My initial take is that’s really interesting,’ says Bowering about director Mitisek’s novel approach. ‘I think the whole process has just reminded me of the essential aspects of it, the bits. That’s poetry basically, the things that deal with human emotions. That is really what matters. And a lot of the other stuff, in any art form but particularly mine, can fall away and it doesn’t matter. But these things, which really are about how people feel, are all that matters.'”

Writing for the Long Beach Press Telegram, Timothy Mangan described the production in detail:

“The production and direction is by the company’s artistic director, Andreas Mitisek, and he took the liberty of dividing the lead role, Monroe, in two. Thus, we get a Marilyn in her bedroom, drinking, taking pills, recalling her life on one side of the stage, and a ‘public’ Marilyn, re-enacting those memories on the other. A single male role, Rehearsal Director, transforms into her several lovers (including Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, though they are never named). A male duo, the Tritones, serves as chorus, commenting (sparingly) on the action.

Mitisek added live video, as well as some documentary footage, to the mix, all projected on scrims draped across the stage, creating an effective dream world. The division of Monroe worked well enough, but may not have been necessary. The part doesn’t always seem clearly split between the public and private character.

At any rate, soprano Danielle Marcelle Bond played the more private Monroe in a recognizable way, sensuous, nervous, making love to the camera. She sang sumptuously, expressively. Jamie Chamberlin gave the public Monroe a nice star-struck vulnerability, in shimmering tones, comfortable with the jazz. Lee Gregory sang the male parts with a fresh eloquence. Robert Norman and Adrian Rosales were the capable Tritones.”

Mark Swed reviewed Marilyn Forever for the Los Angeles Times:

“Live video projected large did help make each Marilyn more present, but the video also amplified the contrast between standard-issue upbeat and downbeat doppelgäangers. Watching the 80-minute performance, I kept thinking that the operatic Marilyn was given exactly the kind of typecasting that the real Monroe was trying to escape.

But Bryars’ score is her exit route…Bryars’ eloquent score has an overriding melancholic quality with an effortless flow between onstage jazz and the more symphonic style of the pit band. Vocal lines are all flowing melody, mostly unresolved. Period-style pop songs in the style that Marilyn might have sung emerge in and out of the general musical material, as though moods of Marilyn, although Bowering’s pop lyrics miss the Tin Pan Alley zing by a mile.

The maudlin Marilyn here dims the light of the bright Marilyn. The true Marilyn was both, and her allure wasn’t, as it feels with this text and this staging, mimickry. With the help of Bryars’ bluesy wonder, very good singing throughout and Bill Linwood’s expert conducting, Marilyn struggles to come alive. Just as she did so sadly, yet so wondrously, in real life.”

Writing for L.A. Weekly, Christian Hertzog was more critical:

“Marilyn Forever sounds like the title of a campy revue at the Cavern Club, but Long Beach Opera’s production at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro is a morose meditation on stardom, sex and self-destruction.

Unfortunately, this U.S. premiere never comes together. Is it the fault of Marilyn Bowering’s vague libretto, a jumble of half-factual, half-imagined episodes from Monroe’s life? Could it be 80 nonstop minutes of Gavin Bryars’ brooding, amorphous music? Is it director Andreas Mitisek’s unclear telling of the story, or his bizarre decision to split the role of Marilyn between two singers?

Bowering’s libretto is a memory play. Monroe lies dying on her bed, incidents from her life oozing through the barbiturate fog — a late arrival at a studio, an inability to sing (or act?), a boudoir scene with a man (possibly Arthur Miller), a mysterious booty call.

Is the libretto too ambiguous for its own good, or does it have latent possibilities for creative staging? Hard to tell here, as Mitisek’s design and direction either disregarded the libretto’s instructions or did a poor job rendering them comprehensible.

Mitisek divides the single role of Marilyn into two separate parts: overdose-suicide Marilyn (portrayed by Danielle Marcelle Bond) and past-memories Marilyn (Jamie Chamberlin). This drains the lead part of its bipolar showmanship. The role should spotlight a singer’s acting skills as she bounces back and forth from woozy, dying Marilyn to sex symbol or troubled wife.

The libretto uses familiar iconography: Monroe as an insecure woman whose radiant sexuality blinded men to her other traits. Bryars gives Marilyn’s part no compelling melodies, and the musical differentiation between her dying and lively personas is too subtle. To do justice to this character requires a singer with a dazzling, oversized voice and a magnetic stage presence.

Chamberlin possessed a firm, focused voice, but there was no brilliance to it. Her acting didn’t exaggerate enough the feminine qualities of Marilyn, winding up a mere simulacrum of Marilyn’s potency instead.

Bond’s voice had a bit more oomph, and she sold us on the pathetic, fading Marilyn, but it’s unclear if she could shift dramatically and vocally into the powerful movie star, if she were to one day inhabit the full role.”

‘Marilyn Forever’: A Hollywood Opera

Today’s Los Angeles Times looks at Gavin Bryars’ opera, Marilyn Forever, which has its US premiere on March 21 at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro. Bryars has previously worked with revered artists such as John Cage, Brian Eno and Tom Waits. (Marilyn will be played by two different singers: Danielle Marcelle Bond, and Jamie Chamberlin.)

“Working with Canadian poet and novelist Marilyn Bowering, Bryars combines languid jazz trio passages with somber, primarily low-register woodwinds, horns and strings to weave a broodingly emotional portrait that probes Monroe’s troubled mind and yearning spirit instead of laying out her biography or re-creating moments from her films.

This is a poetic and philosophical Monroe, whose lines include ‘all life on this planet is a film gone too far’ and ‘you think desire evolves in stages? No, it’s all one moment of strange beauty.’

Bryars, 72, said his Monroe was consistent with the Marilyn who briefly became his obsession in 1963 when he was a 20-year-old philosophy student at Sheffield University. The Misfits, the 1961 drama that was the last film for Monroe and co-star Clark Gable, arrived at a local cinema, and Bryars was there every night, sitting through a forgettable second feature to see it over and over without having to pay an extra admission.

After becoming friendly with [Marilyn] Bowering, a neighbor on Vancouver Island, Bryars began reading her books. One is Anyone Can See I Love You, a series of poetic monologues spoken by Marilyn Monroe that was published in 1987 and adapted as a BBC radio drama.

‘I thought [Bowering] grasped many of the important things I found in Marilyn,’ Bryars said. ‘Often, she plays the dumb blond, the bimbo as it were, but you always have a sense of something else, something in depth and intelligent behind that facade.’

Bryars asked Bowering if she’d help him turn her Marilyn into his protagonist, and in 2010, they began developing the opera in a retreat at Banff in the Canadian Rockies.

The composer said he quickly vetoed including or elaborating on songs Monroe had sung in films — for the purely practical reason that it would have been expensive to secure the rights to use them. Instead, he wrote a couple of 1950s jazz standards-style ballads of his own for scenes in which Monroe is recording a song or slow-dancing with one of the men in her life, all played by a single baritone.

With Marilyn Forever, he said, librettist Bowering had no problem revising her book and radio script to go with the musical flow and propel the drama.

The 2013 premiere of Marilyn Forever in Victoria [Canada] and the recent Australian staging featured the same director and core musicians from Aventa Ensemble. Now Bryars will have to let go and see what Andreas Mitisek, Long Beach Opera’s artistic director, will make of it.

[Mitisek] has decided that Marilyn Forever should have two Marilyns — a soprano for the public figure and a mezzo-soprano for the inward, private woman.”

‘Marilyn Forever’ Opera Set for Long Beach

Photo by Thomas Sandberg

Marilyn Forever is an opera by British composer Gavin Bryars, with a libretto by Canadian poet Marilyn Bowering (author of Anyone Can See I Love You, a 1987 volume about MM.) Marilyn Forever was previously workshopped in Canada, with singer Eivør Pálsdóttir in the title role. Now the Long Beach Post reports that Marilyn Forever is heading to California, opening at the Long Beach Opera in March 2015.

‘Marilyn Forever’: An Opera

Marilyn Forever, an opera, will be staged this weekend at the McPherson Playhouse in Victoria, British Columbia, reports the Times-Colonist. Starring the Faroese singer, Eivor Palsdottir, it features a libretto by poet Marilyn Bowering, based on her 1987 book, Anyone Can See I Love You, set to music by the British composer, Gavin Bryars. An earlier version of the show was produced in 2010.

“Pálsdóttir, chatting between rehearsals, said Marilyn Forever commences unconventionally with the movie star’s death. ‘She’s lying dead in her bed and she kind of wakes up. And her thoughts go back,’ the 30-year-old said.

She worked with Bryars five years ago, performing a piece called Tróndur i Gotu. In Marilyn Forever, aside from a couple of sequences, she makes no attempt to replicate Monroe’s breathy delivery. Pálsdóttir deliberately sings in her own voice, which at times sounds ethereal — somewhat reminiscent of Björk and Kate Bush.

‘My biggest challenge is probably [Monroe’s] body language. And the link between not trying to sound like her, but still being her. That’s quite a challenge, actually. It’s Marilyn with a different voice,’ she said.

Bryars…recalls obsessively watching her 1961 film The Misfits for an entire week.

Back then, British cinema-goers typically saw two films in a row — an ‘A’ and ‘B’ feature. Bryars would watch The Misfits, read the movie’s script while the second feature played, then watch The Misfits once more.

‘There was a sense it was the end of a whole group. And the film itself was about the end of a world, this world of rounding up horses and so forth, this whole neo-cowboy world,’ Bryars said.

Most of all, there was that intangible something about Marilyn Monroe. Bryars’ interest was rekindled when he read Bowering’s 1987 book of poems about Monroe, Anyone Can See I Love You. Bowering also created a stage and a radio version — the latter was broadcast by the CBC and the BBC.

She says Marilyn Forever is intended to reflect the experience of life flashing before one’s eyes, as is said to happen when death looms. There are ‘psychological moments, reflections, reminiscences and so on,’ she said, adding: ‘Basically, she’s discovering and saying who she is through this night.’

Bryars says there’s something ‘Shakespearean’ in the way Marilyn Forever presents Monroe at a moment of tragedy.”

Chopard Exhibit in New York

Monroe mania has hit New York City … Uma Thurman, star of Love, Marilyn and Smash, attended the opening of ‘Marilyn Forever’, the touring Milton Greene photo exhibit, now at Chopard‘s boutique on Madison Avenue.

Thurman, whose third child was born in July, shared her admiration for MM with Women’s Wear Daily:

“‘I always had the highest respect for her work,’ Thurman said of Monroe. ‘If you’re an actor or an actress…you can see how incredible her performances were, how complete and how full and how seamless and how alive. It’s not easy.'”