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Gus Van Sant’s Kurt Cobain biopic to be adapted into an opera in London

The announcement comes almost 28 years to the day since the Nirvana frontman's death

By Joe Goggins

Kurt Cobain performs 'The Man Who Sold the World' at MTV unplugged
Kurt Cobain (Photo credit: YouTube/ MTV).

Plans are afoot to turn Gus Van Sant’s divisive Kurt Cobain biopic into an opera.

‘Last Days’, released in 2005, was heavily inspired by the final days of the Nirvana frontman, although names were changed for fear of legal reprisal. The film followed Michael Pitt as Blake, who was based on Cobain, from his escape from rehab in the opening scene to his eventual suicide.

The film met with mixed reviews, holding a 57% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but the broad canon of artistic works inspired by the life and death of Cobain will now be expanded to encompass opera, as ‘Last Days’ is adapted by London’s Royal Opera House for its 2022-2023 season.

Per The Guardian, composer-in-residence Oliver Leith is behind the production, with the libretto by Matt Copson, who also co-directs alongside Anna Morrissey.

Cobain died 28 years ago this week of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, in his home overlooking Lake Washington in Seattle. Leith is 31, meaning that, unlike many of the artists to have paid tribute to the singer over the years, he will not have first-hand experience of the emotional outpouring from Nirvana fans that followed his passing in 1994.

He is, however, a “massive” fan of the band, according to a statement announcing the work, also entitled ‘Last Days’. “The music soundtracked my teens,” Leith said. “It’s some of the first music I learned to play on the guitar. I owe a lot of how I now make music to the sound of grunge from that time – I had never really thought about where my experimental mess and repetitions had come from.” The tragedy of Cobain, he says, is “an archetypal story – operas deal well in those.” 

He opined that Van Sant’s telling of the story was a sensitive one, adding that “we know [Cobain’s death] is coming. It is used as a lens through which we see everyday somnambulistic life heightened. For example, telling a delivery person to ‘come back another day’ is loaded with tragedy. I think opera also raises the stakes of the quotidian.”

‘Last Days’ is expected to open in October 2022, at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre.