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Washington National Opera
Two Queens: Radvanovsky and Ganassi in WNO’s Bolena
© Scott Suchman/WNO 2012
Washington National Opera brought Anna Bolena back to its repertoire after nearly two decades to open the season and provide a welcome opportunity for Sondra Radvanovsky to make her debut in the title role, an assignment she is expected to take to the Met. The third performance, on September 21, proved effective on most levels, starting with the spotlighted soprano. Her distinctively meaty tone, with its dark mezzo tints in the lower register and fiery, visceral power at the top, was impressive throughout. For the most part, coloratura was articulated cleanly. Occasionally droopy intonation and a shortage of pianissimo shadings seemed minor matters in light of the overall command and an unfailing eloquence — physical, as well as musical — that helped the singer capture the essence of the wronged and tragic queen. Radvanovsky proved especially compelling in the final scene, when, standing in classic recital position, hands clasped in front of her, she seemed truly lost in another world as she sculpted a wonderfully poignant "Cielo, a' miei lunghi spasimi."
Sonia Ganassi's Giovanna Seymour sounded a little gravelly at the low end at times, but her voice otherwise had a solid, bright presence, and she shaped her lines with considerable emotional weight. Ganassi and Radvanovsky sent sparks flying nicely in their big Act II duet. Shalva Mukeria did not strike a heroic figure as Percy, but he sang with remarkable elegance of line and tonal sweetness, not to mention secure and stirring high notes. Oren Gradus looked the part of the roving-eyed Enrico and brought theatrical flair to the part. His voice, however, came in a shade or two lighter than regal. Claudia Huckle, a convincingly boyish Smeton, used her plummy contralto with exceptional sensitivity. Kenneth Kellogg (Rochefort) and Aaron Blake (Hervey) sounded underpowered but stylish. The chorus maintained vocal warmth and balance; the women achieved particular tenderness in their lament for Anna's fate in the opening scene of Act II.
Conductor Antonello Allemandi paid considerable attention to subtle orchestral coloring (the start of the queen's bedchamber scene was a memorable example), and he provided a good deal of rhythmic nuance as well. The orchestra had a solid, vibrant night.
The Benoit Dugardyn-designed production from Dallas Opera looked more efficient than attractive, with the focus on imposing, movable wooden walls and stationary balconies where choristers could gaze down upon the teetering Tudor household. Director Stephen Lawless got things started on a tacky note during the overture, with a droll pantomime depicting the backstory of the king's wandering affections. Other oddities cropped up later, including a fight between two shirtless men wearing antlers during the park scene in Act I and the historically inaccurate inclusion of a tween Princess Elizabeth popping up at key moments to witness the tragic turns of events. Still, most of the action flowed in plausible and absorbing fashion. A memorable image occurred in Act II when, before beginning "Dio, che mi vedi in core," Radvanovsky slowly approached a kneeler and poignantly bowed her head and stretched out her arms, already imagining the blade.
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