Gaetano Donizetti’s first big success, Anna Bolena, serves as a
“star vehicle” in the 2011 production from the Vienna State Opera, with
Anna Netrebko in the title role and Elīna Garanča as Giovanna Seymour,
Bolena’s rival for the attention of King Enrico VIII. As one of the
composer’s longer operas, Anna Bolena tends to be something of a
drag. The title character is unhappy from start to finish, and while the tragic
conclusion has real power, too much of the rest of the score fails to rise
above the workmanlike.
The female leads easily overshadow the two male leads, both very capable
(Ildebrando D’Arcangelo as Enrico and Francesco Meli as Bolena’s supposed
partner in royal infidelity, Lord Percy). The male roles only help to set up
the opera’s other highlight, the confrontation between the doomed Queen and
Seymour. In that scene Netrebko and Garanča bring a production to fierce life
that, to that point, had been gliding along in somewhat perfunctory, if
glamorous, fashion. For Netrebko, the role requires some of the bel
canto dexterity that many critics find her lacking in. She shines in long
lines and soaring passion, where her large voice can dominate the orchestra.
Dramatically, she seems disengaged until the opera’s last scenes, however.
Garanča’s Seymour earns the audience’s sympathy with her initial
reluctance to accept the King’s favors, and the singer’s beauty helps as
well, of course. While her voice certainly has a darker tinge than that of a
soprano, Garanča is a careful, almost inhibited singer and not the sort of
mezzo voice exhibited by a Marilyn Horne or Dolora Zajick. Those who want a bit
more heat or even grit to the voice will be disappointed.
The production is either all meat, no potatoes, or vice versa,
depending on one’s gustatory disposition. For some reason it took two
designers (Jacques Gabel and Claire Sternberg) to come up with the stark and
simple sets. The visual attraction all comes from Luisa Spinatelli’s
luxurious period costumes. Eric Génovèse’s direction offers nothing new,
even ending with Netrebko’s preferred pose of lying on her back (with a
descending wall partition symbolizing the ax, one supposes).
Singer’s conductor Evelino Pidò maintains a strong pulse, and the female
chorus at the start of act two is particularly beautiful. The only bonus
features the set offers are brief spoken act summaries from Ms. Garanča. As a
“star vehicle” then, Anna Bolena is done fine service by this
Deutsche Grammophon DVD. Those who adjust their expectations will have a fine