Anna Netrebko Sets a Royal Standard as 'Anna Bolena'

Tuesday, September 27, 2011 - 08:37 AM

Anna Netrebko as Anna Bolena (Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

At the risk of making an obvious pun, there was a heady atmosphere at the Metropolitan Opera last night (oh, let’s just get the other ones out of the way: head case, head start, losing one’s head, head scratcher…and that’s just off the top of my head).

Among opening nights under Peter Gelb, from the original, starry Madama Butterfly to a theater visionary taking on Lucia di Lammermoor to a gala built around diva Renée Fleming to a drab Tosca to a techy Das Rheingold, perhaps last night’s production of Anna Bolena was his riskiest. All other works—even two out of the three represented in the Fleming gala, which is good enough for government work—were repertory staples given a 21st-century facelift.

Bolena, the story of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, was bel canto composer Donizetti's first major operatic success. It was also a first for the Met. It’s one thing to make a case for a puppetry-laden Butterfly or a Ring 2.0, but a work almost entirely foreign to New York audiences (a conversation frequently overheard last night “Have you ever seen this before?” “No, who has?”) is a more cerebral effort indeed.

Even more striking was that this is the first Met opener in 12 years that was not conducted by James Levine. And with a bel canto opera that does not see the light of day very often, a cerebral production takes a backseat to a top-shelf cast and conductor to make its case. Marco Armiliato gave one of his best performances last night leading from the pit, however there were still moments where the cohesion momentarily unraveled. The first act seemed to be plagued by jitters, though many of the cast members seemed to ease gradually into their roles.

Tenor Stephen Costello bristled in his initial aria, but soon massaged his voice into an urgent, at times—perhaps in a nod to his Pennsylvanian roots—steely tone to the role of Anne Boleyn’s former lover, Lord Richard Percy during his Act I confrontation with Boleyn. He realized the full potential of his instrument in a second-act trio between the royal couple of Anne and Henry VIII and a duet with Boleyn’s brother, Lord Rochefort (Keith Miller). Ildar Abdrazakov’s Henry VIII was reckless, both characteristically and vocally, in his first scene—a duet with Jane Seymour—but quickly became glowering and despotic as he began to question his wife’s infidelity.

A late-inning replacement for a pregnant Elina Garanca, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova (who has no shortage of core-shaking top notes) seemed to play a little too much into Seymour’s initial disaffection, though she thawed considerably in her own duet with the deposed queen.

At the center of this all is, of course, Donizetti’s titular Tudor Anne Boleyn. It was here that Anna Netrebko, in her first Met opening night, reigned supreme. Her effortless stage persona and technique (showing signs of refinement in recent months) is what seemed to inspire her colleagues to rise to the occasion, and a luscious tone made her a natural in the role of Henry VIII’s star-crossed second wife. Though Netrebko has had many star turns in her decade of performing with the Met, this surely ranks as her most assertive as she fearlessly careened from desperate embraces and stares to delirious “Ah mio signors!” in the Act I finale to a rage-and-guilt-laden confrontation with her romantic rival and a spitfire reckoning scene with her husband and former lover.

All of this leads up to Bolena’s centerpiece mad scene, a moment that rival’s Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor for its transformative and transportive capabilities. Netrebko nailed this scene and she knew it, even breaking character during the ovation for this moment to smile at her impassioned audience. Not losing her conviction, however, she then dutifully—even defiantly—grabbed her long, flowing hair, twisted it around her fist and pulled it to the side in the final, heart-stopping moments, exposing her neck and marching proudly to the executioner.

For a score that is unabashedly feminine and a strong-willed diva behind the wheel, it was surprising to see David McVicar’s production unevenly chauvinistic. Jenny Tiramani’s costumes were sumptuous and regal, offering brilliant crimson splashes among a sea of dour black. Robert Jones’s sets, however, were full of unforgivingly harsh and hard edges and right angles. An interesting contrast, yet between the shades of graphite and charcoal, Jones did not offer too much for the eye to complement the riches eventually exposed to the ear, especially against Paul Constable’s warm yet sparse light. On the other hand, maybe that’s the point. Perhaps we’re not supposed to like this world—after all, it never did Anne any favors.

Anna Bolena runs through October 28 (with Angela Meade singing the title role 10/21, 10/24 and 10/28) and returns for two performances in February and a Met in HD Broadcast to over 1600 theaters in 51 countries on 10/15.

Stephen Nessen
The simulcast on Lincoln Center Plaza attracted some 3,000 spectators.
Stephen Nessen
Katie Couric arrives for opening night at the Metropolitan Opera.
Stephen Nessen
Martha Stewart arrives at the Met's opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
Met General Manager Peter Gelb and wife Keri-Lynn Wilson arrive at the opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
On Lincoln Center Plaza watching the simulcast of the opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
Fashion designer Austin Scarlett and guest arrive at the opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
Tyra Banks arrives for the Met's opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
Drinks outside the Met's opening night opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
Jeremy Vines, 33, listens at the Met Opera's opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
Abby Chriss, 8, Noah Criss, 5 and their mother Natasha Chriss at opening night.
Stephen Nessen
At the Lincoln Center Plaza simulcast of the Met's opening night gala.
Stephen Nessen
Dressing up for opening night of the MET Opera 2011.
Stephen Nessen
An estimated 2,000 watched the opening night of the Met Opera in Times Square.
Stephen Nessen
Audiences watch the opening night of the Met Opera in Times Square.
Stephen Nessen
Audiences watch the opening night of the Met Opera in Times Square.
Stephen Nessen
Audiences watch the opening night of the Met Opera in Times Square.

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Comments [7]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music D

ANNA NETREBCO can do no harm. BEVERLY SILLS, to those who have been ;lucky to see her in person performong the Donizetti queens, seemed atr the time to be the definitive performer in that narrow range of "specialization." But, IMHO, ANNA NETREBCO has at least equaled if not surpassed SILLS. The unevenness of the production from others in terms of the sets and the voices does not dilute the special historical value of NETREBKO's contribution. HAPPY HANNUKAH, MERRY XMAS AND HAPPY NERW YEAR !!! HANDEL'S ORATORIOS ARE THE MOST REVERED OF HIS COMPOSITIONS. ONE THAT IS NOT AS OFTEN PERFORMED AS IT DESERVES TO BE IS HIS "JUDAS MACCABAEUS." ITS "SOUND AN ALARM"' IS STIRRING. IT'S MY CLOSING SELECTION ON MY SOLO DEBUT IN THE ISAAC STERN AUDITORIUM OF CARNEGIE HALL CONCERT "{LIVE" ON MY VALHALLA RECORDS CD AND MAY BE DOWNLOADED FROM MY THREE WEBSITES. My cousin MICHAEL BLANKFORT wrote both the books and screenplays for the 1953 film THE JUGGLER Hollywood film made in Israel starring KIRK DOUGLAS and the 1950 Hollywood film BROKEN ARROW starring JAMES STEWART and JEFF CHANDLER [Cochise]. The music for THE JUGGLER was composed by opera composer GEORGE ANTHEIL, in whose opera VOLPONE I sang the tenor leading role [Mosca] in its professional world premiere in NEW YORK in 1953. ANTHEIL, famous for his opera TRANSATLANTIC and BALLET MECHANIQUE looked exactly like Peter Lorre. I am a romantischer heldentenor. I have sung four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. As part of my Ten Language Solo Debut concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, I opened my three hour concert with the Invocazione di Orfeo from Jacopo Peri's opera EURIDICE composed in 1600, the first opera, composed in the same year as Shakespeare wrote HAMLET. It can be heard from the live performance on my three websites, www.WagnerOpera.com, , www.ShakespeareOpera.com, and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com. It received rave critical notices in newspapers and magazines. My voice teachers were the legendary MET OPERA singers Alexander Kipnis, Friedrich Schorr, Martial Singher, John Brownlee, Karin Branzell and Margarete Matzenauer. In another commentary on wqxr.org one commented about all operas that were once NEW but now not new and therefore should be relegated to museum status. As an opera composer myself ["Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare"] I fully comprehend the assumed urgency of recognition of the still living. However, it's important to revere and enjoy the MASTERPIECES of art, music, literature, architecture and science in its multiple formats . I am the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute in Boonton, NJ where I train actors in all the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers in all the Wagner opera roles.

Dec. 09 2012 12:11 PM
carmine lanni from michigan

Just saw the HD broadcast. and was emotionally drained Ms Netrebko is a star in every sense of the word. Her singing has been compared to Callas, who we cant really judge as she is no longer living and Sills. However, in modern opera in addition to hitting all the notes we demand that the singers act. This is an additional requirement and I for one will spot some missed notes for better acting that Ms Netrebko displayed today.

Oct. 16 2011 03:11 AM
Peter O'Malley

I know: pedantry will out!!! but: true Indian summer occurs after there has been a frost, which we haven't had yet (I know: hypertechnical definition).

Oct. 03 2011 05:07 PM
Mike Robbins

Thank you Mr. Gelb for inviting me ( and 3,000 others) to see this under a perfect NYC Indian Summer sky. Effervescence in the audience and on the jumbotron.

Sep. 29 2011 02:16 PM
Harold Connolly from Hell's Kitchen, NYC

I thought the evening was just brilliant. At times I was emotionally drained after Ms. Netrebko would show us her passion, especially after her final scene. The production seemed almost flawless to me. I felt privileged last night to be apart of history being made. My hat off to the Met. Opera!

Sep. 27 2011 03:52 PM
Renee from Manhattan

Certainly I have seen "Anna Bolena" before - right here in New York. Has everybody forgotten Beverly Sills at the New York City Opera in Anna Bolena, as well as the other two Donizetti queens in Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda? Wonderful performances.

Sep. 27 2011 02:33 PM
Peter O'Malley from Oakland, New Jersey

Thanks. We're going to see this in October with friends who will be over from England. Hopefully, by then the "jitters" will have worn off but not enough to make it stodgy. And, no, we have not seen it before (not sure about our English friends, a couple of whom only the woman is an opera buff of any sort).

Sep. 27 2011 10:53 AM

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