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Anna Bolena (ETO)
06 Apr 2008

ANNA BOLENA – English Touring Opera

In a climate in which bel canto opera seems to be enjoying a steady and welcome revival, ETO opened their current season with a welcome production of Donizetti's historically dubious account of the latter days of Anne Boleyn. The company's...

Gaetano Donizetti: Anna Bolena
English Touring Opera, 13 March 2008

Above: Julia Riley
All photos by Robert Workman courtesy of the English Touring Opera


In a climate in which bel canto opera seems to be enjoying a steady and welcome revival, ETO opened their current season with a welcome production of Donizetti's historically dubious account of the latter days of Anne Boleyn. The company's fine Maria Stuarda three years ago is still fresh in the memory, and one wonders whether the company might be brave enough to complete the 'set' with a staging of Roberto Devereux before too long.

The basic framework of Soutra Gilmour's versatile set serves all three productions on the current tour, and for this opera the set's skeleton had tapestry panels mounted upon it which slid in and out of place to create different spaces and enable characters to conceal themselves from one another.

In the title role, Julie Unwin grew in confidence and vocal security as the evening progressed – at the start her tone, dynamics and vibrato overpowered the musical line a little, but by the middle of the first act she had settled into it and she gave a particularly convincing performance in the lyrical moments of the later scenes.

She was, however, overshadowed by outstanding performances from two colleagues: Julia Riley's Jane Seymour was rich-voiced, elegant, poised, passionate and credible – and although Luciano Botelho's dryish tenor is not quite beautiful, he made almost effortless work of Lord Percy's stratospherically high-lying passages. I suspect that this is one of those roles which, when sung even half-decently, is guaranteed to bring the house down – however Botelho really did deliver it with style and panache.

In fact, while most ETO offerings boast one or two particularly strong performances, I forget the last time they fielded such a strong all-round cast. Former ENO principal Riccardo Simonetti was a commanding Henry VIII, while Jonathan Pugsley's Lord Rochford and Serena Kay's Smeaton were also luxuriously sung.

Performing in an orchestration which suits the forces available (and with several cuts to the score) the company has put together a fine orchestra this time around, too, with some particularly good woodwind – Michael Lloyd conducted.

bolena_124.pngJulie Unwin

ETO's decision to perform in the original Italian – a rare exception to their usual English-language policy – was perhaps a wise one, as this repertoire benefits from the Italian vowel sounds combined with the bel canto melodic lines. However the scrolling surtitles were laughable, full of misspellings and oblivious to what might unintentionally cause amusement. But overall this is a creditable account of an opera which has been unjustly neglected in the country from which it takes its inspiration.

Ruth Elleson © 2008

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