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Deutsche Grammophon 0440 073 4728 7
12 Mar 2012

Netrebko and Garanča in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena

The cinema world has given us “star vehicle,” a term used to describe a movie that may not have the best script or direction but which suits a popular actor’s persona so well the film can fairly be called a successful entertainment.

Gaetano Donizetti: Anna Bolena

Anna Bolena: Anna Netrebko; Giovanna Seymour: Elīna Garanča; Enrico VIII: Ildebrando D’Arcangelo; Lord Ricardo Percy: Francesco Meli. Orchestra and Chorus of the Wiener Staatsoper. Conductor: Evelino Pidò.

Deutsche Grammophon 0440 073 4728 7 [Blu-Ray]

$39.99  Click to buy

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 time.

Chris Mullins


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