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The Power of Anna Bolena

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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. 2Anna Bolena.jpg
















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.


I RAN

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.

by Moshe Dor as translated by Barbara Goldberg
from Scorched by the Sun

Copyright © 2012 Moshe Dor


Photo credit: Scott Suchman

Comments (3)

If you cannot make the event, the next best thing is to read Karren Alenier's account of it. Was the opera sung in Italian?

The Dresser:

The oprera was in Italian with English surtitles. Sorry for that omission.

David Lawrence Scally:

There is no doubt that Percy must take a back seat to the two female leads in "Anna Bolena" or that the 15 minute duet between Anna and Seymour and the final scene are the two greatest moments in the opera. However, we must not overlook a remarkable event that took place right before Ms Radvanovasky's final scene. Shalva Mukeria, our Percy, sang both verses of the cabaletta, "Nel veder la tua costanza", to the great tenor aria, "Vivi tu", and he sang it remarkably well. This scene is frequently deleted either because of the capricious whims of those who make cuts in long operas or more likely because the tenor hired, adequate for the other demands of the role, cannot risk showing the world that he lacks the necessary technique.

I have collected and/or listened on You Tube to many live performances of "Vivi tu" and this is the first time that I recall any tenor singing both verses of "Nel veder la tua costanza" in a live performance. It was the insertion of this aria that had a great deal to do with Donizetti being able to persuade the legendary tenor, Giovanni Battista Rubini, to sing Percy in the premiere of "Anna Bolena". Like most roles tailored to the talents of Rubini, Percy is extremely difficult to cast these days. For instance, while singing Percy at Metropolitan Opera last season, Stephen Costello, stated during an interview that the only more difficult role for a bel-canto tenor is the even more notorious role of Arturo in "Puritani".

Listeners who want to hear both verses of "Nel veder la tua costanza" must search through a short supply of uncut recordings made under studio conditions. We are very fortunate that Christina Scheppelmann was able to obtain a tenor with the remarkable technique of Shalva Mukeria, a very busy tenor in Europe.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 19, 2012 8:32 AM.

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