CHICAGO: Anna Bolena
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In Review > North America

Anna Bolena

CHICAGO
Lyric Opera of Chicago
12/6/14

In Review Lyric Opera of Chicago Bolena hdl 315
Hymel and Radvanovsky, Percy and Anna Bolena in Chicago
© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015

Every opera-lover occasionally needs a luxurious wallow in a grand Italian “Big Sing.” Lyric Opera gave us exactly that with a musically satisfying, expertly staged mounting of Donizetti’s masterpiece Anna Bolena (seen Dec. 6), featuring as impressive a cast for this opera as could be assembled today.

Sondra Radvanovsky sang a glorious account of the title role, distinguished by extraordinary dynamic control throughout the full vocal range. The soprano’s voice seemed huge, even when she was placed upstage with her back to the house, but then dwindled elegantly away to a thread of ineffable delicacy for “Al dolce guidami.” She offered some interesting variations in the repeat of “Ah! segnata è la mia sorte,” and the mad scene found every trill in place.

John Relyea was a handsome, hormonal Henry VIII, and his dark-grained bass limned the king’s vocal writing exceptionally well. As Giovanna, mezzo Jamie Barton entirely justified the buzz she has created since her win at the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition with a velvety, rounded sound that maintained its lovely quality throughout the registers. Bryan Hymel scored a great success in his Lyric debut as Percy. The power and thrust of Hymel’s brightly textured tenor was expected, given his admirable record in nineteenth-century French repertoire in recent seasons, but a honeyed sweetness above the staff here proved most rewarding in bel canto as well; one hopes to hear more of Hymel in this music. Kelley O’Connor sang winningly as Smeton and looked convincingly boyish. Richard Ollarsaba and John Irvin completed the company agreeably as Rochefort and Hervey, respectively.

The ultimate glory of the evening, however, lay in the magnificent duets. Whether Relyea with Barton, Barton with Radvanovsky or Radvanovsky with Hymel, each pairing found the voices perfectly calibrated to one another and blended superbly. The Anna–Giovanna confrontation brought the house down.

Felice Romani’s vintage 1830 libretto is historical hash, but Kevin Newbury’s intelligent production fielded a number of insightful nods toward authenticity. During the prelude, an image appeared of the pregnant Anna, writhing in the labor that produced a stillborn son who, had he lived, might have mitigated the unhappy queen’s fate (and changed the course of Western civilization). The child Elizabeth was seen among the courtiers at several key moments. Newbury handled the tricky business of bringing several of the principals in for the final scene — a potentially awkward dramatic choice, as some of them were presumably tortured and executed by that point — by incorporating them into Anna’s hallucinations. Neil Patel’s spare setting was dominated by an ornate paneled ceiling, from which various set elements ingeniously descended, then retreated into the paneled design again. D. M. Wood’s lighting cast stark silhouettes throughout, and Jessica Jahn’s sumptuous Tudor costumes established the era perfectly.

The orchestra played beautifully for conductor Patrick Summers, a brass blip or two notwithstanding. Choral forces were in fine fettle. It must be said that Donizetti’s score was significantly cut, which some aficionados may find disfiguring. Several repeats were lost, and the second-scene ensemble was shortened by easily a third; but Percy got both his arias, and the display writing was generally observed by everyone. Ultimately, these excisions seemed a small price to pay: Lyric’s Bolena was a musical experience of royal order. spacer 

MARK THOMAS KETTERSON

 

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