Actually it was more like an intermittently babbling brook. The Met’s internet stream had more stops and starts than a broken zipper. If you were listening to Anna Bolena on Sirius’s satellite signal all was well. But the Met’s “updated” feed was a disaster. How much of this imperfect streaming to blame on the Met and how much should be attributed to an over stressed internet is beyond my ken. So the Met is technologically challenged, how did they do artistically?
Anna Bolena, first performed in in 1830 took until last night to reach the Met. The opera is another example of why persistence is the most important requisite for success. Donizetti had written around 30 operas without achieving a big success before he hit it big with Anna Bolena. This is an almost insane tolerance for rejection, but it paid off. After it’s initial success it gradually receded from the repertory. By 1957, when Maria Callas took it up, it had virtually disappeared. Since Callas it has gained new life as a star vehicle for the great prima donnas that followed the Greek-American soprano.
Anna Bolena, measured by the standard of Donizetti’s later great operas, is a B work. Many of the ensembles and duets are quite good, but everything depends on Anna. If you have a star soprano, put it on. It’s nice to have a good tenor and bass and two good mezzos, but the opera works only with a great soprano. Anna Netrebko was obviously the reason the opera finally surfaced at the Met. The big problem with this work is that it’s three hours of torture. It starts out with Ann Boleyn in Henry VIII’s outhouse and goes downhill from there. Fortunately we’re not required to witness her decapitation. Even Puccini doesn’t torture his sopranos the way Donizetti treats Ann. Madame Butterfly gets a happy end to her first act. Unrelieved gloom is the tinta of this opera.
Much was made by Ira Siff, one of the evening’s commentators, about the opening of cuts commonly made in this opera. When Callas did the work it was so heavily cut that even the tenor’s second act aria was excised. But when Beverly Sills performed the opera at the New York City Opera the opera was virtually intact. Last night’s performance allowed the tenor aria – “Vivi tu” – though there had been rumors that it would be cut; but there were many omissions throughout both acts.
Ms Netrebko has a great stage presence, so it’s hard to judge her overall performance by audio alone. For such a judgement we’ll have to wait for the Met’s HD broadcast of the opera on October 15. Let’s hope technology doesn’t bite this broadcast as it did yesterday’s. But on the basis of her performance on opening night of the 2011 – 20012 season we should expect a lot.
Netrebko remarked in an intermission interview that the title role in the opera lies very low. This vocal placement plays to her strength. Her voice is much richer and lush than when she first appeared at the Met a decade ago. Her dark voice stood out throughout the evening. She was in especially fine vocal form by the opera’s final scene in which she once again get’s to go crazy. Her singing was richly produced and had a dark tone which sounded like she might be ready for some of the heavier Verdi roles. In short she supplied the necessary soprano goods to justify mounting the opera. Her interpretation stresses drama over ornamentation. Here’s her aria from the final scene. The little blip in it’s middle is one of the smaller misfires that characterized the Met’s streaming. Al dolce guidami
The rest of the cast ranged from adequate to a little less so. Russian mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova was fine as Anne’s seemingly reluctant rival Jane Seymour (Giovanna Seymour). Her voice has a rich and dark sound to it though she could have been more involved in the drama.
Another Russian, Ildar Abdrazakov, was dramatically effective as the abusive monarch. His voice is well produced and displayed ability that has made him a feature at many of the world’s leading opera house. But nobody goes to Anna Bolena for Henry VIII. He constantly mispronounced ‘Seymour’ – it came out ‘Saymour’. Netrebko got it right, but her English is much better than his.
The young American mezzo Tamara Mumford, still in her twenties, has a interesting voice that carries promise. It’s not her fault that her character, Smeton, is in a pain in the posterior. He’s (it’s a trouser role) essential to the story, but if I was going to cut more from the opera I’d start with him.
This leaves tenor Stephen Costello. His previous performances at the Met have all been in the comprimario role of Arturo in Lucia Di Lammermoor except for one shot at the leading role – Edgardo. These were all in the season 2007- 08. He’s young and has a pleasant and at times beautiful voice, but he was stressed as Percy. The part was written for the legendary bel canto tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini. Costello has a small sound that is stressed above the staff. Nevertheless, he’s so young that he may grow into parts like this.
Conductor Marco Armiliato kept everybody together, but that was about the extent of his contribution to the show. I’ll comment on the production when it’s presented on the big screen.
In summary, Anna Netrebko supplied sufficient reason for mounting this rarity. It’s worth going to because of her impressive artistry.
For the record the cast is below.
Gaetano Donizetti-Felice Romani
Anne Boleyn (Anna Bolena)…….Anna Netrebko
Jane Seymour (Giovanna)………Ekaterina Gubanova
Henry VIII (Enrico)………….Ildar Abdrazakov
Lord Richard Percy (Riccardo)…Stephen Costello
Mark Smeaton………………..Tamara Mumford
Lord Rochefort………………Keith Miller
Sir Hervey………………….Eduardo Valdes
Set Designer………………..Robert Jones [Debut]
Costume Designer…………….Jenny Tiramani [Debut]
Lighting Designer……………Paule Constable