Babes in bodices

After a less than satisfactory introduction to Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in a MetHD broadcast last year it was with some trepidation that I approached the DVD version recorded at the Wiener Staatsoper and also starring Anna Netrebko.  I need not have worried because it’s very good indeed.  It has a stronger cast, Eric Genovese’s relatively simple production trumps David McVicar’s overstuffed effort and Evelino Pido doesn’t try and make the orchestra sound like it’s playing Wagner.  The sound on the DVD is also way better than it was on that broadcast.

1.anna_giovannaI’m not going to say this is the most inspired opera in the repertoire.  The music is quite formulaic though with some really strong moments like the Act 2 duet between Anna and Seymour.  The story is also about as contrived and inaccurate as one expects from a 19th century Italian opera based on English history.  On the other hand it’s a great showpiece for the singers.  Genovese’s production recognises that.  He doesn’t try to do more than give an elegant and uncluttered platform for them to perform on, facilitated by a revolving stage that minimises lengthy scene changes (The bane of Met productions.  I guess they have to justify those $400,000 p.a. stage hands).  Only right at the very end does he get all symbolic with quite clever use of the young Elizabeth and some interesting fabric work for Anna.

2.henrico_giovannaThis is a very strong cast.  Anna Netrebko sounds really good here in the title role with a nice mix of power and agility.  I think these heavier bel canto roles really suit where her voice is right now.  She gets terrific backing from Elina Garanča; gorgeous of voice and in every other way, as Giovanna Seymour.  Ildebrando d’Arcangelo is a dark toned and menacing Henrico.  The dramatic chemistry between the three of them is terrific.  The rest of the cast is also very good indeed with some particularly fine and Italianate singing from Francesco Meli as Percy.  Evelino Pido, conducting, also seems to find the right balance between drama and the agility at the core of the music.

3.act1 finaleVideo direction is by Brian Large and it’s pretty decent.  The sparse sets and lack of elaborate stage action suit his tendency to focus in on the principals.  The sound, both DTS surround and PCM stereo, is very good indeed.  The picture is generally good though it can’t really cope with some of the less well lit patches.  The Blu-ray version may be better in that regard.  The only bonuses on the disk are a couple of two minute intros to the acts by Elena Garanča.  The documentation is standard DGG and there are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles.

4.percy_rochefortEvery known again I feel that there is a risk that I’ll become a convert to bel canto.  It’s this sort of performance that might do it.

5.end

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6 thoughts on “Babes in bodices

  1. I like that Anna/Jane Seymour duet too – my first recording of this opera was one with Beverly Sills and Shirley Verrett in those two roles, and they were just terrific.

    I’ll have to add this DVD to my list. I liked Netrebko in Lucia di Lammermoor: when she’s having a good night, she can be great with this bel canto stuff.

  2. I also think that Anna, Elina and Ildebrando have amazing chemestry. And I think especially Anna’s and Elina’s voices mash well together, they sound so beautiful together. There are some concerts in which they sang together and their duets are absolutely wonderful!

  3. Thanks for this great site and your insightful critique of this DVD. Garanca really steals the show on this one I think. I have come to rely on your comments in selecting excellent opera DVDs as I have spent untold hundreds of dollars on sub par ones.
    Would like to hear your comments on Donizetti’s Lucia de Lamemoor production of Metropolitan Opera with Joan Sutherland 1982 and also Met’s 2009 production with Netrebko/Beczala. I enjoyed both. Look forward to reading it.
    J Hattori

    • I haven’t seen the Met 1982 production. I saw the HD broadcast with Netrebko in the cinema but haven’t seen the DVD. My brief note, it was pre this blog, says the singing/acting was top notch but that I had reservations about the production; particularly setting it in the late 19th century where the politics make no sense. However since the plot of Lucia doesn’t make much sense anyway that may not be a major flaw!

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