|Ildar Abdrazakov, Anna Netrebko and Keith Miller|
Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Reviewed by James Karas
The Metropolitan Opera has started another season of broadcasting some of its productions from Lincoln Center to hundreds of theatres around the world in high definition. This year’s lineup consists of eleven operas and that is about twice as many productions as most opera companies in the world put on. The Canadian Opera Company provides only six. The Met’s contribution to opera around the world is simply inestimable.
There are times, of course, when technology and weather do not cooperate and the result that reaches your local theatre may not be quite as admirable as what those lucky New Yorkers see at Lincoln Centre.
Everything seemed to go wrong on Saturday, October 15, 2011 when the current season was launched with a highly-anticipated production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena. I am speaking only of what we saw in the movie theatre and not about the virtues of the production. The screen was smoky and grainy, a far cry from the crisp, well defined picture one expects from a broadcast in high definition.
The orchestra sounded fine but there were a few glitches that reminded one of those nasty blips that sent a stab of pain when listening to an LP. (This experience applies to only those of a certain age.) But even the singers’ voices were not always perfectly clear. What is worse, the movements were jerky as if we were watching one of those silent movies before the number of stills and projection speed were coordinated.
In other words, this Anna Bolena was like watching a worn VHS tape with speakers purchased from Canadian Tire. Shoot the weatherman.
As far as directing the opera for the cinema (i.e. choosing the shots and angles that we poor slobs got to see) the Met’s Gary Halvorson was at his usual level worst. We never did get to see the whole set unless he showed it when the picture was so bad and I closed my eyes so I could listen to the stupendous singing. In addition to nauseating close-ups, Halvorson has developed a taste for dramatic up-shots where we look at the characters from below.
Anna Bolena is the story of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s wife No. 2, near the end of her tenure as she is about to be replaced by No. 3, Jane Seymour. Henry is after Jane while Lord Richard and Mark Smeaton are in love with Anne. Well, you know the ending.
Director David McVicar offers an old-fashioned (that is a compliment) grand production with monumental sets (or what Halvorson will let you see) and singing on a magnificent scale. Anna Netrebko gets to be distressed and distraught as she is rejected by Henry and wooed by Smeaton and Percy. She even gets a mini-mad scene near the end in a vocal performance of the first rate. Netrebko’s vocal beauty was matched by her physical attractiveness but she has now puffed up and become another overweight soprano. Pity.
Ildar Abdrazakov gets to scowl pretty much throughout the performance. His Henry VIII is vocally and physically virile, commanding and not to be trifled with. Mezzo soprano Ekaterina Gobanova as Jane Seymour provides a contrast and a foil for both Henry and Anne Boleyn. She is tortured by her betrayal of her friend Anne and her position as the King’s mistress. She has an exceptional scene confrontation with the king near the beginning where she tells him that she no longer wants to meet him in secret. He puts a different interpretation on her comments and agrees to make her his.
Mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford does a fine job in the pants role of Smeaton, the court musician who is secretly in love with Anne.
The passionate Lord Percy is sung by Stephen Castello. He along with Smeaton and Anne’s bother Lord Rochefort will lose their heads.
Marco Armiliato conducted the Met Opera Orchestra.
We should have better luck when we see the encore broadcast on November 21, 2011.
Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on October 15 and will be broadcast again on November 21, 2011 at the Cineplex Town Centre and other cinemas. For more information: www.cineplex.com/events