If Gaetano Donizetti's opera Anna Bolena was a story about a mother deprived of seeing her daughter grow up because her husband wants a new wife, the libretto would have been written by a woman. It should be noted that the non-speaking/non-singing role of Henry and Anne's daughter Elizabeth who would become Elizabeth I, Queen of England, was added by Stephen Lawless who conceived and directs this production. The Dresser applauds the interpretation but it did raise a flag about who wrote the libretto. Felice Romani's libretto, a tragedy about a woman with enormous political ambition--she wanted to be Queen of England as the second wife of Henry the VIII--deeply impressed the Dresser. In today's world, one thinks about Hillary Clinton, a woman who put up with a philandering husband possibly to further her ambition to be president of the United States. Clinton's story is yet unfinished and may very well not be a subject of tragedy as Anne Boleyn's story was.
On September 18, 2012, the Dresser saw Washington National Opera's offering of Anna Bolena. This production with impressive sets comes from The Dallas Opera.
Soprano Sonia Radvanovsky as Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) is a force against which no man of ordinary station should compete. Her powerful singing filled the Kennedy Center opera house in what seemed to be an effortless performance.
Bass baritone Oren Gradus as Enrico VIII (Henry the VIII) was a worthy match to Radvanovsky both in voice and acting. However, Shalva Mukeria as Riccardo (Lord Richard Percy)--the man set up by Henry to cause Anne's demise and who is shockingly Anne's legal husband by an earlier marriage never annulled---has a strange quality to his voice that doesn't meet standards set by Radvanovsky and Gradus.
Mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi with a less powerful voice is a beautiful complement to Radvanovsky. This was especially heard in the scene where Jane asks Anne for forgiveness after revealing that she (Jane) is the woman Henry will marry next and the reason why Henry wants Anne out of his way.
One other singer of particular note, though in general the casting was excellent, was contralto Claudia Huckle in the pants role of Smeton, the page who loves Anne but who is tricked into denouncing her because he is told this will save her life. Huckle's singing and acting is particularly animated when he visits her vacant bed chamber to return a locket of hers that he had stolen as a love token. In an opera that lacks movement and seemed exceptionally static in this production, Huckle's performance was a breath of fresh air.
While the beautiful music was played with exuberance and presented as one would expect, the Dresser often found Donizetti's cheerful compositions incompatible with the tragedy unfolding. Moreover, the Dresser found Lawless' interpretation of the story strangely comic at inappropriate points. For example, during the long overture that begins this opera, the the silent presentation of Henry's marital history with text projections and appearances of Gradus with first a non-speaking/non-singing walk-on who plays his first wife Catherine of Aragon and then with Radvanovsky as Anne Boleyn made not only the Dresser chuckle but also others in the audience.
In Moshe Dor's poem "I Ran," we meet a man much like Henry the VIII. Unlike the historic king who was moving from wife to wife seeking a male heir, Donizetti's Henry is running ragged trying to find perfect love. The problem is the women Henry picks in this opera all have political ambition.
Man, why did you run away?
Jerzy Andrzievsky, "The Diamond and the Ashes"
I ran because what I craved proved to be
a mirage, I ran because in the wilderness
my body burst into flames, I ran because
when the last wadi flooded, my soul
also was washed away, I ran because I'm human
and was afraid the bullet would hit my back
but instead it struck the bull's eye of my heart.
Copyright © 2012 Moshe Dor
Photo credit: Scott Suchman