This story really does raise important issues -- ethical, esthetic, etc. -- and thanks to all who have touched on them.
Why does Mayerling come to mind? It's soap opera for the literate classes -- those that have heard of the Habsburgs, at least. Come to think of it, so is Manon. So are so many other ballets.
Recall the much publicized Schaufuss ballet about Princess Diana that villified Camilla, the Queen, and others in caricature. Not in great taste, either. This and the Britney ballet exemplify how our generation is fond of dumbing down art. Every creative act is not art, but chances are a lot of people will buy tickets to see it.
People seem to perceive a couple of differences between these older works, which are taken seriously and are generally not condemned for content, and pieces like those involving Britney or Diana:
1) Rudolph, Manon, etc., are long dead and therefore will not be hurt by the exploitation of the seamier side of their lives.
2) They were produced by serious artists who hae shown themselves capable of working brilliantly with more substantial subject matter.
My own feeling is that the quality of the work matters a great deal -- and even excuses a great deal. The Telegraph reviewer obviously feels that the quality is not there and that this condemns the work sufficiently.
I also feel that contemporary public figures whose careers have been deeply involved in the control and exploitation of their own public images -- and Diana was right up there with any pop music star -- have fewer privacy rights than the rest of us. Those who live by the press release may occasional have to die by the press release. It's sad, but it's the rules of the very risky game they themselves have chosen to play.
I am ambivalent about the issues involved with allegations of "mental illness" -- something that has been alleged both in the Diana and Britney Spears cases. It's a fuzzy area full of constantly changing definitions, many of which are tossed around in the press by people with no direct professional knowledge of the celebrity involved. One could argue that the depiction of certain symptoms -- done with thought and care -- could actually increase public awareness of mental illness and sympathy for those who suffer from it (or on its edges).
The mental illness is not an invention of the gutter press, you need no more than the daily to weekly headlines from the Associated Press to know that they didn't make up how she did a hit-and-run a few months ago, married some childhood sweetheart a few years ago for the thrill of it, has been in and out of rehab, shaved her head, etc. The press cultivates it and does contribute to the developments, but she could have easily moved out of town if she was not ill, and possibly afraid to be away from situations, children are involved and the rest. Court decisions about visitation rights for Britney Spears are not earth-shaking news, but neither are they fabricated. I never read anything about her off my Verizon Home Page which has Associated Press breaking news items. That's the only reason I know about any of the Party Girls of Hollywood.
The better comparison would be a ballet about Paris Hilton. This is not a 'troubled girl', but rather spoiled, silly, funny and condescending, even hateful. She's not an addict, even if she has one too many, so the public hates her more than Britney Spears. Americans in particular have sympathy for someone who is obviously sick instead of flaunting their 'fabulousness', as Hilton does. It was so incredibly important to the public that Hilton serve her time for a minor (comparatively) violation that they were screaming all over the place, and Al Sharpton made yet another absurd Photo Op for himself by alleging 'race favoritism' when Hilton was released early, even though by the time for his Shining Moment, she'd already been put back in. The other starlets would spend 82 and 84 minutes in jail, and there was no outcry when they were released. This is because if you are not crippled, and are merely 'sinning', then you 'deserve' the full force of the proletarian rage. A ballet about Hilton would be silly, insubstantial, but it could be amusing. She's got a sense of humour herself, and seemed to enjoy getting the Harvard Lampoon's Woman of the Year Award last week. She is more like Mavis Weld in Chandler's 'The Little Sister', whom he described as a 'loose Hollywood babe without much morals', but it had been the very righteous 'little half-sister' who'd done the ice-pick work.
Margaret Cho already did some performance-art after Spears's failed MTV Awards appearance, it was discussed on all blogs frivolous and serious, and people 'feel sorry for her'. I can see how various forms of work about 'mental illness symptoms' might lead to greater public awareness, but not an obviously exploitative ballet work about a tabloid queen, because that's what the theme is--tabloid queen with problems and let's enjoy this crap; it is not about raising consciousness--or a serious work without a Famous Name to go with it could have done quite as well, and a lot better. 'Bad parenting', I would also note, does not preclude 'mental illness' even straight up, as it were, and is well-known to be the cause of a lot of it. Also, 'Mayerling' and the other dead-people soap operas are indeed different: even if Spears is only interested in drumming up endless publicity until she finds herself as famous as Marilyn Monroe after death, doing a ballet while the tension is only getting worse is only using the most vulgar and very same tactics as she is (and the children part would not be publicity-seeking, but rather real desperation); they want to cash in on it, and pretend at the same time they are 'being sensitive' with this homage. It is like a ballet form of Reality TV and it's repulsive. I don't see any grey areas in this myself.