Anna Netrebko showed this afternoon why Donizetti’s first successful opera is still performed. Though premiered in 1830, it took Anna Bolena until this year to reach the Met. The opera was Donizetti’s 34th. What kept him in the game after going so long without a hit is mysterious. He shows once again that the greatest determinant of success is keeping at it for as long as it takes. Eventually the man wrote more than 80 operas before going mad prior to age 50. While his mental deterioration is usually attributed to syphilis, all those years in the opera house must have been a contributing comorbid event.

Today’s performance was the sixth of this run. It was markedly better than the first (as far as I could tell from the opening night broadcast compared to the telecast). The Russian star, today she was closer to a super nova, was so good that her’s may have been the best performance since the HD series started.

Netrebko gave everything you could want from a doomed heroine in an Italian opera. Her voice was rich, round, effortlessly produced over its entire range, and emotionally apposite for Donizetti’s tortured queen. Though she’s gained weight from last season and seems comfortably settled into early middle age, her acting was dynamic and affecting. Her voice has become a velvet instrument that does anything she asks of it. Her high notes, both full voice and piano, were secure and dazzling. This is an artist at the peak of her powers – one who comes along very rarely. Without her there is no reason for this opera. With her it’s a must see. If you missed it, catch the rerun. She’s reached the point where she’s ready for some of the bigger Verdi roles – eg, both Leonoras, Elisabetta, Elvira, etc.

Anna Bolena is a spotty opera. There are longueurs in the first act which is notable mainly for its beautiful quartet and the finale. The second act is at a much higher level. The concluding scene in which Anna gets to go crazy, recover, and then forgive (not) Jane Seymour is a test of vocal technique and endurance which only the greatest artist can meet. Netrebko charged through the scene like Joe DiMaggio playing center field. She made the almost impossible seem easy.

There are nice parts for two mezzos – Jane and Smeaton, a tenor – Lord Percy, and a bass – Henry VIII. But they are all satellites revolving around Anna’s star.

Ekaterina Gubanova (Jane) has all the notes and sings with power, but her sound is not very pleasing. Tamara Mumford has a light and pleasant voice. Her part unfortunately goes on a bit too long. Ildar Abdrazakov is very good looking and has an authoritative bass. He was appropriately menacing as the fickle king. He was also given to a lot of silent movie gestures and grimaces that sometimes reminded me of Ming the Merciless. His is the part after Anna’s that has the most musical and dramatic interest. The young American tenor Stephen Costello was Percy. His voice has a nice center, but is stressed at its top. It’s a voice that can go up or down. He needs to be careful with it. It might turn out to be very good, but it’s still at a vestigial stage.

The smaller roles of Lord Rochefort and Sir Hervey were very capably handled by Keith Miller (who’s so good that he deserves a shot at a bigger part) and Eduardo Valdes.

The production was very ably directed by David McVicar who let the artists stay in their vocal and dramatic comfort zones. The sets by Robert Jones changed as the action unfolded allowing one scene to move immediately into the next. The costumes by Jenny Tiramani were a little heavy for the otherwise spare settings. They aimed for Tudor authenticity which they achieved, though this verisimilitude added little to the overall production.

Marco Armiliato conducted the prima as if he thought it was La Sonnambula. This afternoon, however he was much peppier and led the Met’s always excellent orchestra in a rousing reading of Donizetti’s score. The video director, Gary Halvorson, as is typical for these telecasts had his cameras so close that he must have been using endoscopes. In Netrebko’s case this actually helped as it distracted the eye from her expanding waistline. A person near me wondered of she were pregnant. Beats me.

The intermission feature had an unscheduled highlight. Netrebko and Abdrazakov were mugging like two teenagers behind an earnest Renée Fleming. Ms Fleming was explaining some artistic fine point, I couldn’t concentrate on what she was saying because of the high jinks to her rear, completely unaware that she was being upstaged by two out of control Russians and that it was being witnessed on more continents than I can count. Ms Fleming also seems to have gained weight since last season. Maybe it was an illusion caused by Mr Halvoson’s endoscopes. Or perhaps we need a new Diva’s branch of Weight Watchers Anonymous.

A technical note: The Met’s HD satellite feeds are run by the Dish network. Someone in the theater’s control room (or more likely not in the control room) forgot to push a button and the telecast stopped and a message flashed on the screen indicating that this cessation was because of continued inactivity. This happened in the second act just as Anna and her alleged co-conspirators were about to go into Henry’s rigged court. The outage lasted about a minute, but it seemed much longer. It appears almost impossible to get through one of these broadcasts totally unscathed.

In summary, the opera was a great success due to a marvelous interpretation of the title part by an extraordinary performer at the summit of her powers.

If you’re interested in a list of all of Donizetti’s operas click the preceding Word file.

Metropolitan Opera House
October 15, 2011 HD Transmission


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

Conductor…………………..Marco Armiliato

Production………………….David McVicar
Set Designer………………..Robert Jones
Costume Designer…………….Jenny Tiramani
Lighting Designer……………Paule Constable
Choreographer……………….Andrew George
TV Director…………………Gary Halvorson