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In the wake of Anna Nicole, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s celebrity bimbo opera at Covent Garden, Netherlands Opera is going for the biggest flush of all.
On June 9, it will stage the world premiere of Waiting for Miss Monroe, by composer Robin de Raaff, libretto Janine Brogt. Laura Aikin will sing the title role. If it’s a success, we know several sopranos who will kill for a shot at it.
De Raaff is a serious composer and we were puzzled by his preoccupation with the fluffiness of mass culture. So we asked him, while still composing the opera’s final pages, to explain the motivations for Waiting for Miss Monroe. Among various reasons, he rediscovers Marilyn as a marvellous singer with infallible tempo and pitch control.
Here’s Robin’s account:
After my first opera Raaff, I became attracted to the sheer and often naive optimism in design of the 50s, and more and more saw Marilyn Monroe as a 50s icon. She is the first superstar, omnipresent in modern daily life.
But it wasn’t until I read the Secret Tapes of Marilyn Monroe that I knew I was on to something real and very powerful. After private sessions with Pierre Audi (director of Netherlands Opera), and using my old teacher George Benjamin as a sounding board, I started work on it independently.
To see this Superstar in complete solitude sharing her most intimate thoughts with something as unromantic as a tape recorder just fascinated me. These very intimate sessions became the thread around which the whole drama of her live and death are paralleled. Those sessions, and the thoughts she expressed, were never meant for anybody except herself and Dr Greenson, her psychiatrist.
Through my opera, we experience those most inner thoughts almost as voyeurs, which gave me the chance to build a labyrinth of meaning and emotional symbols around her character. We see the things we think we know about her and her life with a completely different intensity, and we experience her death, as the death of a very complex, intuitive, beautiful woman whom we grew very close to in the course of the opera.
Her aspirations were far bigger than most of us realize. Her death happened at a crossroads in her career. But her death is also the birth of her superstardom. I don’t think there ever will be a bigger star.
After I read the Secret Tapes, I started to get involved with Janine Brogt again, who also was the librettist of my first opera Raaff. She wrote a very powerful libretto and developed very interesting characters. It was her decision not to have Greenson present, allowing the tape recorder to be an even more powerful generator for her inner being.
And for me it also made perfect sense to let MM be a singing character, not simply because she sang her self in her movies, but because I actually think she has a great timing as a singer, and a very good and resounding low voice. Completely opposite to her most of the time high pitched speaking voice as Marilyn Monroe.