Exquisite singing in the COC's Anna BolenaReview
The Canadian Opera Company has brought out the third of their “Tudor Queen” operas to close out their 2017⁄18 season. Donizetti’s Anna Bolena stars Sondra Radvanovsky (#LaWowza) in the title role, and she’s joined by a cast of phenomenal singers and actors to bring a stupendous production to the stage.
Few figures in history have captured the world’s imagination more the King Henry VIII of the House of Tudor and his futile attempt to bring forth a male heir at the expense of the women in and around his court. This is the story of the end of his relationship with Anne Boleyn (mother of Elizabeth I), whom he married after an annulment of his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon. This chapter deals with the rise of one Jane Seymour to become Henry VIII’s third wife.
Radvanovsky is incredible in this role. Her unique and incredible instrument is so attuned with this work, one questions whether Donizetti wrote it for her. She seemed a little dry and hoarse through the first number or two, but that quickly disappeared by the time her first cadenza came around. Her otherworldly skill and talent as a singer is equally matched by her commitment as an actress. As the upwardly-mobile Giovanna Seymour, Keri Alkema gives us the best singing of the night - and in spades. Alkema was on the top of her game as well as everyone else’s if you ask me. Her range is out of this world. Alkema’s Giovanna was also adept at displaying the dramatic dichotomy that Seymour faces - her feelings for and duty to the King and her loyalty to her friend and queen.
Christian Van Horn] has a big codpiece to fill in the role of Henry VIII, and does so with aplomb. The resonance was always magnificent and the tone was the beauty that you crave in bel canto. Strapping in stature and heroic in voice, Van Horn stalks around the stage and commands the attention of all in the room. I have to say, if the Tudor King looked and swaggered and sang like that, I would pledge more than just allegiance #TripleSwoonTimesInfinity.
Singing the role of Lord Percy, Anna’s previously betrothed was tenor Bruce Sledge. His masculine sound flew through the hall in some really fine and dazzling singing. A true bel canto tenor, Sledge received one of the warmest receptions from the audience, and rightfully so.
In the pants role of Smeton, Allyson McHardy once again is in prime voice. I just felt a bit of a dramaturgical disconnect that a court musician would be that free to speak and interact with the King and Queen in such a time of rigid decorum. Jonathan Jonson makes his COC Debut as Hervey was a lighter tenor but still had some great laser focused resonance. I highly doubt this will be the only time we get to see him onstage. Thomas Goerz was a very fine Lord Rochefort (Anna’s brother) who has resigned himself to his fate at the hands of Henry VIII’s judgement.
Stephen Lawless’s direction was very simplistic and traditional and kept the focus on the singing. The COC Orchestra conducted by Corrado Rovaris played incredibly well. I did find Rovaris’s tempi on the sluggish side, which seemed to really have a negative effect on the pacing of the drama of the show. It didn’t have the characteristic lightness that Donizetti brings to his compositions. I found there to be a serious lack of variety in the tempi until the sudden jump to presto/prestissimo that is inevitable in each act’s finale. I felt the whole show was painted with this moderato brush - and knowing the history I do know about Boleyn, I find it at odds with how high the stakes are for her - and her daughter who we do see in this show.
It’s not the most dramatically fulfilling show but the singing is exquisite. The show definitely could have benefitted from (more than) a few judicious cuts. It’s one thing when the text is repeated in a number, it’s quite another when it’s repeated in three or four.
Radvanovsky, Van Horn, and especially Alkema are totally worth hearing in this production, which runs through May 26. For details and tickets, click here.