OPERA NEWS - Anna Bolena
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Anna Bolena

Opéra National de Bordeaux

In Review Bordeaux Bolena lg 219
Marina Rebeka, Anna Bolena at Opéra National de Bordeaux
© Maitetxu Etcheverria

THE AMBITIOUS SEASON in Bordeaux continued with Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in a refurbished 2014 production by Marie-Louise Bischofberger; Bordeaux music director Paul Daniel conducted the house’s orchestra and chorus.

Anna Bolena is an opera about great singing, despite the questionable priorities of Bischofberger’s vaguely historic production, with its rudimentary acting, on a stage rightly dominated by the throne. The composer’s first great success is a thrilling bel canto confrontation for Henry VIII’s second and third wives, Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. Bordeaux cast the work from strength, with Russian mezzo Ekaterina Semenchuk as Giovanna Seymour and rising bel canto star Marina Rebeka in the title role.

The well-prepared chorus stomped on- and offstage with little interest; the only eye-catching moment came as Anna snatched a long stole to swirl across the stage during her final condemnation of the smug married couple. Seymour suffers the most complex personal dilemma through the opera, as she vacillates between being Anna’s loyal lady-in-waiting and the new mistress to Anna’s husband, Enrico VIII. Despite her loyalty when she and Anna empathize about the miscreant king, Giovanna does not hesitate to show her glowing contentment at the plush royal marriage. Semenchuk was tonally refulgent, capable of fluent coloratura, with a glorious upper extension to her mezzo, even if her Italian sounded cloudy opposite Rebeka’s Anna. 

Taking on her first staged performance of the Tudor queen, the Latvian soprano gave a remarkably assured performance. This was a haughty monarch of imperious dignity and full-voiced dramatic coloratura authority. The only element lacking was the delicacy of stretched bel canto lines, but this was an Anna whose determination left little place for pathos. Technically, the thrilling rising trills in the finale were absent, but the soprano crowned the evening with a confident (applause-garnering) altissimo. 

The other great singing on November 5 came from Samoan tenor Pene Pati as Lord Percy, Anna’s ex-lover, who is used to ensnare Anna by Enrico VIII, here given an adequately sung but uncharismatic performance by bass Dimitry Ivashchenko. With something of the girth and timbre of the late Luciano Pavarotti, and despite a limited physical commitment, Pati’s Percy glowed with splendor and more sense of Italian style than many of the cast could muster. 

Daniel did not sound entirely at home in this repertoire, with a clamorous approach to the score, drawing some rough playing from the Bordeaux band. A gentler, more flexible baton would have helped the pit-to-stage balance and transformed a fine evening into a great one. There was excellent vocal support from mezzo Marion Lebègue’s energetic Smeton, who just needed a more tightly bound legato to make the most of her music. Kévin Amiel brought a strongly projected tenor to the malicious Sir Hervey, and bass-baritone Guilhem Worms delivered a finely judged dramatic performance as Anna’s brother, Lord Rochefort. —Stephen J. Mudge

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