“It was perfectly all right for me to imagine a twelve-year-old Lolita. She only existed in my head. But to make a real twelve-year-old girl play such a part would be sinful and immoral, and I will never consent to it.”
Well, of course Nabokov did consent to it, once for $150,000 and 15% of the producer’s profits for the movie rights (not to mention his fee for the screenplay) and then again for the musical, for which he waived script approval (and probably any serious interest in the project as well).
It’s still startling to me that in 1971 John Barry and Alan Jay Lerner contributed words and music to a musical of Lolita, called Lolita My Love. Not surprisingly, it was savaged by the critics and closed before its scheduled Broadway opening after only nine performances in Philadelphia and Boston. In 1981 Edward Albee took his chances with a non-musical stage adaptation that was even more disastrously received. It’s not hard to wonder why.
In 2007 a funny letter appeared in the New York Times in response to an article on novels being made into musicals:
To the Editor:
I am sorry that Henry Alford (”Books on Broadway,” Jan. 14), was not able to see ”Lolita, My Love” when it opened in Philadelphia in 1971 (or when it closed in Boston shortly thereafter). The sight and sound of the incomparable Dorothy Loudon belting out ”Sur les Quais de Ramsdale, Vermont” made an unforgettable memory for me. Curiously, audiences had pretty much the reaction that Max Bialystock hoped for with ”Springtime for Hitler.”
West Hartford, Conn.
Carol Clapp! That song is at the bottom of this post. Judge for yourself:
But even more obscure is the 1994 world premiere in Stockholm of Rodion Shchedrin’s three-hour opera of Lolita (in Swedish) conducted by none other than the great Mstislav Rostropovich and attended by Nabokov’s son and translator Dmitri. Incidentally Shchedrin was married to prima ballerina assoluta Maya Plisetskaya for whom he created several ballets, including Anna Karenina and The Little Humpbacked Horse. The opera was well received, and Act II is still occasionally performed. The image below is like no opera I’ve ever seen!