Toronto – Opera’s reigning queen of bel canto, Canadian-American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, returns to the Canadian Opera Company this spring to close its 2017/2018 season with Donizetti’s Tudor drama, Anna Bolena. Last performed at the COC in 1984, the opera captures the tumultuous final days of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, as she fights for her honour and her life. Anna Bolena runs for nine performances on April 28, May 3, 5, 8, 11, 16, 20, 24, 26, 2018.
With this sumptuous new production from acclaimed British director Stephen Lawless, the COC completes its Donizetti Tudor Trilogy, which began with Maria Stuarda in 2010 and continued with Roberto Devereux in 2014, where Radvanovsky earned raves for her portrayal of Elisabetta. Queen Elizabeth I is a common presence across all three works; Lawless and his team made sure she was not only seen on stage but felt through the many Elizabethan references that include set design inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and lavish period costumes that were popular during her reign.
Anna Bolena is a showpiece for an extraordinary soprano. In fact, despite the enduring cultural fascination with the queen’s untimely end and the opera’s immediate popularity upon its premiere, it was rarely performed in the early 20th century due to the difficulty of casting the vocally demanding title role. Having mastered the bel canto repertoire, Radvanovsky returns to the COC as Anna Bolena on the heels of her much-heralded portrayal all three Donizetti queens in a single season at the Metropolitan Opera. The New York Times praised her “wondrous command of subtle shadings and vibrato. Making every word matter, she infuses each phrase with urgency and emotion. In bursts of defiance, she can unleash her voice with thrilling power, slicing through the orchestra and chorus with silvery top notes.”
Radvanovsky is joined by an all-star cast. American soprano Keri Alkema lends her voice, with its “appealing brew of dark and creamy colors” (New York Times), to the role of Giovanna Seymour, while American bassbaritone Christian Van Horn, winner of the 2018 Richard Tucker Award, makes his role debut as Enrico VIII. American Bruce Sledge, one of the world’s most in-demand bel canto tenors, is Lord Riccardo Percy, and Canadian mezzo-soprano and Ensemble Studio graduate Allyson McHardy, who has been described as having a spellbinding presence that is radiant and noble, sings the role of Smeton, the musician secretly in love with the queen.
Considered Donizetti’s first major hit, Anna Bolena is known for its dramatic arias and ensembles. Italian maestro Corrado Rovaris leads the COC Orchestra and Chorus through the exquisite score, rich in emotion. The opera is sung in Italian and presented by the COC with English SURTITLESTM.
As we are coming out of a short spring and early summer – it’s time to get stuck into the Canadian Opera Company’s ‘Anna Bolena’ and breathe a sigh of relief. A shake up is indeed in order.
Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) catches the audience up to the third (and final) of our trilogy of Donizetti’s Tudor operas.
The Canadian Opera Company consistently brings the audience into the staging. ‘Anna Bolena’s’ staging is determined to leave you breathless and eager to ruminate over as the opera performance washes over you. The audience was in for treat when we were greeted with the framework of a Globe Theatre setting which emanated a sinister edge and a foreboding paternalism during the performance.
As per Stephen Lawless’ director’s notes, “Of course it would be wrong to think of the characters in Anna Bolena (and indeed Donizetti’s other two Tudor operas) as in any way historical. They are works of fiction. The Giovanna (Jane) Seymour of Donizetti’s opera is a long way from how Tudor propagandists sought to present the historical Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s (Enrico’s) third wife. Jane was portrayed as almost saint-like, martyred on the altar of providing Henry with his much longed-for male heir. Her fictionalized counterpart is radically different. Giovanna is a woman attracted to the flame of power who comes to empathise with the plight of her rival (Anna) and who ultimately pays the price for her ambition. Enrico, in the opera, conforms to the stereotype of Holbein’s famous portrait, a vastly bloated and resplendent tyrant, whereas the historical Henry (at the time of his marriage to Anne Boleyn) was still slim, relatively young and handsome. Lord Riccardo (Henry) Percy reflects the prevailing early 19th-century idea of the Byronic hero rather than any 16thcentury actuality (indeed, the historical Percy was in fact a judge at Anna’s trial rather than her suitor). Donizetti and Romani toy with history by fictionalizing what they don’t know between the facts that they do (much in the same way that the series The Crown does today).”
Canadian-American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky drives home the theme that Anna refuses to be victimized. Radvanovsky’s beautiful yet jaw dropping arias are enough to leave you wincing in your seat. Radvanovsky is the reason you need to leave your home for the night and immerse yourself in her top shelf talent that is beyond exquisite and expansive.
Keri Alkema as Giovanna Seymour will elevate the mood and Christian Van Horn as Enrico VIII will make you want to turn inward. American Bruce Sledge as Lord Riccardo Percy and Canadian Allyson McHardy as Smeton will provide you with that extra dramatic edge that keeps “Anna Bolena” pressing forward.
Be sure to catch “Anna Bolena” before the Canadian Opera Company closes shop for the summer. A truly reflective piece of work that will be sure to keep you satiated during the performance and wanting more upon its conclusion.