Anna Bolena at the Lyric

For whatever reason, there were entire rows of empty seats Monday night at the opera house. For the first act, right as the lights dimmed, I slipped into an aisle seat that had an empty seat ahead of me, thinking I would have the perfect vantage point. Alas, the lady in front had a alarmingly huge poof of hair that neatly blocked my entire view of center stage. Come on people – save those big hair nights when you are not going to the theater!!! I didn’t want to be the jerk that kept changing seats in the middle of the performance, and so slid sideways and craned my neck over the edge of the seat to watch. At least I had the luxury of stretching my legs!

The singing was first rate from a uniformly strong cast. Sondra Radvanovsky was gripping and visceral as the embattled queen. Jamie Barton, as Jane Seymour, maybe didn’t cut as convincing a figure as Elina Garancha, but had a stunning voice, secure and strong. The male leads held up their end as well.

Having recently been obsessed with reading about the Tudor period, I was fascinated to re-explore the portrayal of Anne Boleyn in Donizetti’s opera, especially since it was my first introduction to Henry VIII’s second of six wives. In this opera, Anne Boleyn, or Anna Bolena – the Italian version of her name – cuts a pitiable and tragic figure, who is helpless in the face of her sovereign’s cold cruelty in tossing her aside for yet another wife. This is in stark contrast to the books, where she is generally labelled haughty and scheming. Depends on the sources referenced and the writers’ sympathies I guess.

Anyhow, it was an enjoyable performance overall, though I much prefer David McVicar’s somber set and staging to this. The Lyric set, borrowed from Minnesota Opera, was boring. I couldn’t quite appreciate the lighting, and found the different background color changes distracting and an unnecessary conceit. The chorus seemed unusually blocky and stolid – especially when compared to the positively electric chorus of Porgy and Bess which we saw the second night.

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