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In 'Marilyn Forever,' a Hollywood icon gets the operatic treatment

by Robert Garrova | The Frame

A scene from "Marilyn Forever," produced by Long Beach Opera. Keith Ian Polakoff

20th century icons such as Albert Einstein and Richard Nixon have earned their place on the opera stage, so why not Hollywood's most famous icon?

"Marilyn Forever" is a new work based on the life of Marilyn Monroe — currently having its U.S. premiere at Long Beach Opera. The composer is Gavin Bryars, who has worked in styles ranging from jazz to neo-classical.

"Marilyn Forever" librettist Marilyn Bowering says her fascination with the actress goes back almost three decades. In 1987, Bowering released a book of poems about Monroe, which is the basis for the new opera. 

Bowering spoke with The Frame's senior producer, Oscar Garza. 

Interview Highlights

How did you approach adapting your poems into text that could be sung? 

Fortunately I had always thought of music as part of the piece, so that was helpful. And, also, I approached it through voice.

The sound of Marilyn Monroe's voice was always uppermost in my mind. I understood as I worked that people know this story anyway. That's one of the joys of working with the piece is that she is a myth. 

What kind of person did you want to create for audiences to meet on stage? 

Well, it wasn't that intellectual or analytical an approach. [I thought] What are the elements in her that I can connect with? So there was the name. There was her fear of abandonment as a child, her insecurity over her mother's madness — a lot of different things in her biography that made sense to me. But maybe most profoundly of all, really, was her humanity. She had a great respect for everyone. She didn't seem to care what gender you were or what race you were, what you did for a living. I think that's what's really appealing about her. So I wanted that essence of her to come across more than anything else. 

Did watching and listening to this opera here in Southern California feel any different, knowing you were in Hollywood's backyard, not so far from where Marilyn lived and died? 

This was a very different performance from what I had seen before. It was exceedingly well done, beautifully sung. There are two Marilyns [onstage], so we are always aware of the later, disturbed Marilyn who is present on this evening of her death. She is always onstage. There was a great deal more use of video work, which I found really interesting. So it was a much more Hollywood, L.A. kind of production.

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