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Customer Review

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medals for the ladies, 19 April 2012
This review is from: Anna Bolena: Wiener Staatsoper (Pidò) [DVD] [2011] [NTSC] (DVD)
Apart from the proud reputation of the Zurich Opera House appreciation of opera in Switzerland is rather remote but the various doings of Anna Netrebko, a consumate theatre animal, receive considerable media attention. Consequently the soprano's presence in the title role of the 2011 production of Anna Bolena from Vienna stimulated more than usual interest and soon after coming on the market the DVD was shown on German speaking television.

The praise, heaped on this production, which would burden an elephant is entirely justified. Also it was a clever ploy to market the DVD as a star vehicle for both Anna Netrebko and Elina Garanca for this fine mezzosoprano in the role of Giovanna Seymour is Netrebko's absolute equal in both singing and acting honours. It is hard to believe that these two definitive performances could ever be bettered. Also most worthy of note is the very good singing and acting of Elisabeth Kulman in the trouser role (the inevitable lot of opera's numerous pages) of Smeaton.

The men fare less well. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo has a fine bass voice and sings well but visually he lacks kingly splendour which in this particular opera is a necessity. I thought that Francesco Meli was rather lightweight in the first act but things improved greatly in the second. Both orchestra and chorus could not be faulted.

The opera is presented with minimal staging but it works well. The costumes, although not authentic, complement the staging. Netrebko, who in recent months has put on some weight, looks very fetching in her hunting outfit and it is tempting to speculate that her Tudor style costume might have benefited by the addition of the French hood, pioneered in England by Anne Boleyn. Enrico would have certainly benefited by the addition of Henry VIII's famous hat for the singer's rather ragged haircut is an irritant and detracts from performance appreciation

In 1989 I was fortunate to be at Covent Garden for Dame Joan Sutherland's farewell performance for which she selected the title role of Anna Bolena, always one of her Donizetti signature roles. As would be expected there was warm and sustained applause for the famous soprano but there were also some mutterings that Dame Joan was now simply not up to the demanding role and her career had continued for too long. In 1984 Toronto mounted a traditional version of the opera designed as a virtual solo promenade for Dame Joan. Second place was given to James Morris who possessed both a regal look and a commanding presence. In what may well have been a deliberate decision the role of Giovanna was relegated to the B team and reviewers barely ever mention Judith Forst, whose more limited capabilities simply cannot be compared to the achievements of Elina Garanca. Such is manifestly apparent in the great Anna/Giovanna duets of act 2 (often regarded as the opera's high point) for in addition to their splendid singing Netrebko and Garanca succeed in creating a real dramatic tension which is simply not achieved in Toronto

For any opera aficionado the jewels of the Vienna production are such that it must deserve a prime place in any Donizetti collection. That said I suspect that the always reassuring presence of Dame Joan, the majestic look of James Morris and the instantly recognisable Tudor costumes might well make the Toronto production the first choice for someone seeking an introduction to the opera

Trottman

Unfortunately a recent viewing of the Joan Sutherland version (March 2015) was something of a disappointment. The singing is at a very high standard and the observations made above remain valid but the picture quality is poor and the English subtitles are embedded. All interests are best served by the Netrebko/Garanca version

Trottman
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