Anna Bolena – Anna: Netrebko IS Bolena

A wonderful extra to the Met HD Performances is the lengthy intermission with its interviews.  For the Met HD Live on October 15, 2011, there was a small difference.  The performance started five minutes early, and hostess Rene Fleming used that time to interview title star Anna Netrebko in her dressing room.  She explained that because the role of Bolena is so demanding, she did not want the added stress of an interview between the acts as had been the case in previous years.

Anna Netrebko as the Queen

The final question asked was, “How do you get yourself into the role at the last minute; like right now if you weren’t giving this interview?”  For a moment Anna Netrebko did not reply.  She had been sitting relaxed with her lovely-to-look-at smiling face.  Her body straightened and stiffened.  Her smile was replaced by a severe (but not unpleasant) straight mouth.   She said, simply, “I remind myself that I am a Queen.”  In my mind she was indeed a Queen from that moment through the last curtain call almost 4 hours later.

Anne Boleyn: Later copy of an original portrait, which was painted in about 1534

According to history (ref. Anne became a member of the court of Henry’s first wife, Queen Catherine, in 1522 and had a brief affair with Lord Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland.  That affair was soon squelched by Cardinal Wolsey; Percy married a Mary Talbot and played no further part in Anne’s life.

King Henry VIII after Hans Holbein the Younger, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool; photo courtesy Wikipedia

Henry was a lusty king and had a succession of mistresses, including Anne’s sister Mary.  About 1526 he fell in love with Anne (there are actually love letters he wrote to her, preserved in the Vatican) but she refused to become his mistress.  Henry had given up on Catherine’s providing him with a male heir, so he decided to annul that marriage and marry Anne.  They were married in June of 1533 and Anne’s daughter Elizabeth was born in September of that year.  Although she became pregnant at least twice after that, they all resulted in either a miscarriage or a stillbirth.  In 1536 Henry decided to try another cycle by getting rid of Anne and marrying Jane Seymour with whom was already having an affair.

A simple annulment won’t do this time.  Anne and several men including her musician Mark Smeaton and her brother George, Lord Rochefort are accused of “treason, adultery, and incest.”  Despite flimsy evidence, they are all found guilty and beheaded.

Ekaterina Gubanova as Giovanna Seymour, Tamara Mumford as Marco Seaton, Anna Netrebko as Queen Anna Bolena, Ildar Abdrazakov as King Enrico VIII, and Stephen Costello as Lord Riccardo Percy

The opera all takes place in 1536 and has only one major deviation from history.  Lord Riccardo Percy (Stephen Costello) has had his first name changed.  He did not marry, but went into exile. Enrico (Ildar Abdrazakov) has ordered him back from exile for the purpose of trapping him and Anna (Anna Netrebko) to give him an excuse for beheading her.  (To distinguish between the historical and operatic characters, I will use the Italian first names for the latter – as was done in the program and the official figure captions).

Tamara Mumford as Marco Smeaton

In the only other significant historical variation, the mature musician Mark has become the young harpist page Marco (Tamara Mumford).  Her portrayal of an adolescent boy with a crush on an older woman is quite fetching.

Anna Netrebko as the Queen and Ildar Abdrazakov as Enrico

Enrico (Ildar Abdrazakov) is marvelously shown as the compleat autocrat. He has absolute power and he uses it without regard to the feelings or needs of anyone else.  His approach to women makes Bill Clinton look good.

Anna Netrebko, and Stephen Costello as Lord Riccardo Percy

Riccardo is a complete contrast: weak, lovable, and not very bright.  He utterly fails to see the trap Enrico has set.  Although Anna still loves him, she far more loves being Queen (and being alive).

Anna Netrebko, and Ekaterina Gubanova as Giovanna Seymour

Giovanna Seymour (Ekaterina Gubanova) has had her character fleshed out.  She is truly in love with the man Enrico despite his being King, but she also truly loves Queen Anna – the conflict, of course, makes her miserable.

Anna Netrebko as Anne Boleyn in the last moments of her life

All of the above singers, together with Keith Miller as Anna’s brother Giorgio  and Eduardo Valdes as Enrico’s factotum Sir Hervey make a well integrated team with outstanding voices.  Add that the CineArts Theatre at Palo Alto Square has a new projector and a new sound system, and the result was an overwhelming musical and dramatic experience.  I am definitely planning to go to the Encore on Wednesday November 2 at 6:30 pm (local time).  Wherever you live, look up your nearest theater at and run, don’t walk to buy yourself a ticket.

The Opera Nut

Photos, except as noted: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera

This review by Philip G Hodge appeared in on October 18, 2011

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