Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Red Bed and Yellow Jacket

Aside from the gorgeous singing (more on that in a moment), what stands out in this monochromatic production of “Anna Bolena” is The Queen’s Red Bed and The King’s Yellow Jacket. Set Designer Robert Jones has given the production a castle with moveable walls, much like the sliding shoji seen in Japan. The costumes of Jenny Tiramani are absolutely accurate in their period detail, down to the undergarments. (Don’t ask how I know this.) However, the consistent use of black and white against the grey walls is fatiguing to the eye which yearns for some color. Fortunately, the astute lighting of Paule Constable goes a long way toward providing some atmosphere.
The production by David McVicar could best be described as static. Granted that not much happens in the opera. King Henry VIII has tired of wife #2 who has borne only a daughter and has his eye (and both hands) all over Jane Seymour, Anne’s lady-in-waiting. His method of dealing with this situation is to invite Lord Richard Percy (Anne’s great love whom she left to marry Henry) to return from exile and to thereby entrap Anne and get her convicted of adultery and dispatched by The Lord High Executioner of Titipoo, sorry, England. He implements the plot by manipulating Smeton, Anne’s pet musician who is also in love with her.

The Met’s superstar soprano du jour Anna Netrebko also has the entire audience in love with her. Well, most of the audience. She makes a huge impression with a weighty voice and some nice squillo at the top; she is ravishingly beautiful in spite of the recent “baby fat” and she chews up the scenery with a succession of emotions--pride, indignation, despair, jealousy, rage, terror, forgiveness, you name it. But something undefinable is missing. One has only to listen to some youtube recordings of Callas or Sills (from the New York City Opera’s mid 1970s heyday) to feel the goosebumps missing from Netrebko’s performance. Detracting still further was her poor diction in Italian and a bit of sloppiness in the coloratura. It wasn’t a bad performance, it just didn’t thrill the soul.

American tenor Stephen Costello was affecting as the lovelorn Percy, a role of daunting tessitura, and his Italian was far easier to understand. Ildar Abdrazakov was a virile and intimidating Henry. In the trouser role of Smeton, Lindemann graduate Tamara Mumford was outstanding. Her acting was completely convincing and her mezzo absolutely gorgeous. Ekaterina Gubanova sang Jane Seymour with a metallic edge to her voice that made it difficult to empathize. Keith Miller and Eduardo Valdes were fine in the smaller roles of Lord Rochefort and Sir Hervey.

Marco Armiliato conducted Donizetti’s dazzling melodies. There was one exquisite moment when Smeton is playing the lute for Ann, rather doing an excellent job of miming, while harpist Deborah Hoffman (I believe) is playing the actual music.
Having seen both the HD and the live performances, I wanted to close by reiterating a point made after attending 8 HD performances last month. The HD director has a large contribution to make and nowhere in the program was credit (or debit, in this case) given. The HD was even darker than the production itself and long shots were used when closeups were called for, and vice-versa. Opportunities for “reaction shots” were missed. I can only guess that the HD direction was somehow given short shrift or insufficient rehearsal. Or perhaps because it was filmed live during an actual performance. If any reader knows more, I welcome your comments. Also, if you agree or disagree on anything, please leave your comment.

© meche kroop for The Opera Insider

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