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In Review > North America

Anna Bolena

NEW YORK CITY
The Metropolitan Opera
9/26/15

Sondra Radvanovsky surpassed expectations in a stupendous performance of Anna Bolena.

In Review Met Anna Bolena hdl 1215
Barton and Radvanovsky as Giovanna and Anna in Anna Bolena
© Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

IN HER QUEST to conquer all three of Donizetti’s “Tudor Queens” this season at the Met, soprano Sondra Radvanovsky set the bar high in her first outing. The title role in Anna Bolena, created for the great Giuditta Pasta in 1830 and revived for well-documented and groundbreaking performances by Maria Callas in 1957, demands vocal acting of unrivaled scope, and Radvanovsky surpassed expectations in a stupendous performance on September 26.

Radvanovsky brought a deeply committed characterization to her pedal-to-the-metal performing style, using all of Donizetti’s technical demands—filigree, lyricism, coloratura, trills, leaps, high notes, rangy arpeggio vaults—plus a wide range of dynamics, vocal colors and her trademark uneven vibrato. As Anna realizes that Enrico (Henry VIII) will discard her, with or without proof of infidelity, Radvanovsky conveyed the queen’s disbelief, torment, anger and eventual madness with consummate artistry. The final scene has been restaged with new costumes and now shows the queen in a simple white slip, surrounded by her ladies, kneeling to have her hair lopped off in preparation for the axe. Radvanovsky’s poignant, hypnotic reading of Anna’s nostalgic “Al dolce guidami” was unforgettably delicate and poised, and the final “Coppia iniqua” portrayed terror and outrage with blazing intensity.

The rest of the cast provided bel canto singing of the highest level, while the chorus, though staged without imagination, contributed strongly to the atmosphere of closeted intrigue. As Anna’s first love, Henry Percy, tenor Stephen Costello sang with the requisite style, along with dark vocal color and an attractive thrust for this high-lying role. His stamina flagged at the end of “Vivi tu,” however, proving that he still needs better management of his considerable talents. As Enrico, the menacing bad-guy of this opera, bass Ildar Abdrazakov struck the famous hands-on-hips Holbein-portrait pose but otherwise brought little to the role. Abdrazakov’s voice is sturdy and at times glamorous but short on low notes. Tamara Mumford seems stuck in minor roles at the Met, but her voluptuous contralto and lean, nimble stage presence are a plus in the role of Smeaton, the court musician tortured and framed by Enrico as Anna’s supposed lover.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton’s voice—an instrument of singular beauty and amplitude—transcends an amiable stage persona that is at odds with suffering or tormented characters (as 2013’s Adalgisa, for example). In Donizetti’s opera, Giovanna (Queen Anne’s lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour) is the reluctant focus of the king’s attention. In the great Act II confrontation in which Anna figures this out, Barton conveyed Giovanna’s guilt and anguish with touching sincerity and glorious sound, but she couldn’t do much with the awkward bedroom scene with the lustful Enrico.

The singer-friendly conductor Marco Armiliato provided perfect tempos, often quite brisk, but David McVicar’s dull production, first seen in 2011, paints a stark, depressing Tudor court that foreshadows the tragic end of Henry VIII’s second wife. (The final blood-red curtain is a great touch.) Massive, ugly dark-gray walls by Robert Jones provide a backdrop to Jenny Tiramani’s black costumes; as Enrico sets traps for the queen to make way for his new love interest, lighter colors are employed, but the effect evokes giant Styrofoam takeout containers. Lighting designer Paule Constable created an intriguing effect for the opening scene, but my view of the stage-right wall was obstructed. The only textured piece of scenery, a beamed, wood-paneled ceiling, repeatedly drew the eye away from the stage. —Judith Malafronte 

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