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17.9.12

Sondra Radvanovsky Transcends Drab 'Anna Bolena'


Sondra Radvanovsky (Anna Bolena) and Sonia Ganassi (Giovanna Seymour) in Anna Bolena, Washington National Opera, 2012 (photo by Scott Suchman)
When the Metropolitan Opera presented the disappointing Anna Netrebko in the title role of Donizetti's Anna Bolena last year, they missed the chance to cast Sondra Radvanovsky as the hated arriviste Queen of England. New York's loss is Washington's gain, as the American soprano gave a smash debut in the role on Saturday night in Washington National Opera's first production of the opera since 1993. (For some background on the opera, see my preview article.) Radvanovsky was graceful and dignified as the second wife of King Henry VIII, with searing high notes and an ethereal pianissimo, not swallowed or pinched in sound, just sweet, and active and articulated runs. As noted of her appearances at the Met and here in Washington, the voice makes a large, broad sound, shading to the dark side and occasionally just a hair flat, but the fireworks from Radvanovsky, never really strained throughout a long evening, were the best part of this uneven production.

There were other high points, too, beginning with the company debut of Georgian tenor Shalva Mukeria, who sang the role for his U.S. debut at Santa Fe Opera in 2004. As Riccardo, Anne's former love, he had clarion high notes with plenty of room-filling squillo, a plaintive legato and sobbing tone, but was stiff as a board in his acting, less than believable as the ardent Percy. Mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi, last heard in Werther last spring, was good in the role of Giovanna Seymour, Anne's rival, especially in the Act II duet ("Sul suo capo aggravi un Dio") with Radvanovsky, one of the opera's best pieces, but with a somewhat mousy presence that prevented her from becoming a more brilliant foil to Anne. With some of the best little set pieces in the opera, mezzo-soprano Claudia Huckle, a former Domingo-Cafritz artist, had an excellent turn as Smeton, Anne's court musician. Bass Oren Gradus had a mixed company debut as Henry VIII, swaggering with a rough-hewn tone until he hit a bad patch in the second act, cracking badly on a high note ("Giustizia!).


Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Radvanovsky shines in Washington National Opera’s ‘Anna Bolena’ (Washington Post, September 17)

---, Sondra Radvanovsky prepares for Washington National Opera’s ‘Anna Bolena’ (Washington Post, September 14)
WNO revived a dull-as-dust staging from the Dallas Opera, directed by Stephen Lawless, with a truly ugly set of IKEA-style wood panels that moved around unhelpfully (sets by Benoit Dugardyn), providing a backdrop, as in the photo above, that reminded me too much of my childhood friend's wood-paneled den in the 1970s. Moving pieces did little to distract from the plainness: the odd choice of rolling display cases (for the royal ermines and, curiously, the executioner's sword and block) and a bizarre added choreography in the hunt scene (featuring two bare-chested men wearing deer skull masks fighting each other). Because the opera was part of a trilogy staged by Lawless around the life of Elizabeth I, he added the young princess to this opera as a tween supernumerary (not in Felice Romani's libretto), although Elizabeth was not even three years old at the time of her mother's execution. The curving upper backdrop at the back of the stage, based on Shakespeare's Globe Theater, was routinely filled with members of the chorus, a device that became tiresome, as did the fawning menace of character tenor Aaron Blake as Sir Hervey, Henry's toady, their relationship tinged with an unspoken homoeroticism. Several of the cuts often made to the score were reversed in this performance, including in Percy's jail scene in Act II, making for a long evening in the theater. Conductor Antonello Allemandi, in a generally undistinguished company debut at the podium, used exaggerated gestures that did not really help much in coordinating pit and platform.

This production continues through October 6, at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

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