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Sondra Radvanovsky Dazzles in a Gripping Anna Bolena at The Metropolitan Opera – Opera Review

Mark McLaren, Editor In Chief, September 26, 2015

This afternoon, American-born soprano Sondra Radvanovsky cemented her standing as a leading, world-class interpreter of bel canto repertoire, guiding a sizzling cast in The Metropolitan Opera‘s breathtaking remount of Sir David McVicar‘s Anna Bolena.   An actor of immeasurable and refreshing skill, Radvanovsky travels Anne Boleyn’s short, tragic journey from distracted young queen to grisly end with thoughtful, gripping clarity.  At 46, she sings intelligently – a youthful confidence wrapped in a mature sensibility, and to stunning result.  We have many years to enjoy this artist, and today, as she begins her own difficult journey singing Donizetti’s Three Queen Triology, a bel canto superstar is born.

Singers from the 2011 debut of the McVicar production (lead then by soprano Anna Netrebko) return this season, including the fine Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII, American tenor Stephen Costello as Percy, and Tamara Mumford as Mark Smeaton.  And while the 2011 production was exciting, this go around is significantly more engaging.  And frankly, much better.

Abdrazakov brings an impressive vocal performance to Henry, and his scene work with Radvanovsky as he plots to ruin Anne crackles with tension in the hands of these two actors.  Abdrazakov’s Henry is richly complex.  There is a whiff in his first exchange with Jane Seymour (Jamie Barton in another of the day’s career-defining performances), that sadistic pleasure holds some standing with managerial efficiency as Henry moves his plan for a new wife forward.

In another production delight, the vocally beautiful young American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton brings her own impressive set of acting chops to Jane Seymour.  Barton won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2007, and at 35 brings a youthful abandon to her dark, rich, sonorous sound.  Barton’s first act Ella di me solicit is sung with superb bel canto technique, a pleasure that both sopranos offer in abundance.

Fantastic singing throughout, absolutely.  At times sublime.  But it is the rich character work by each of the actors at the center of the love triangle, the strong dramatic choices and the clarity of scene that they bring to their performance that takes this production from very good to absolutely thrilling.

The dark doings are brightly exposed in Robert Jones‘ successful set, an intricate coffered ceiling capping stark white stone walls that bring the sordid action into vivid relief.  The only forgiving color in Paule Constable‘s harshly white lighting comes from a window stage right where occasionally warm yellow rays of sunlight suggest a serene freedom outside, one that those inside won’t experience.

Gaetano Donizetti‘s telling of the Anne Boleyn story is distinctly Italian.  Anne is more victim here than the Anne of modern history, and Donizetti inserts an Anne-smitten character (Smeaton) to create a second, plot-driving love triangle.  His biggest departure from history is the insertion of a mad scene prior to Anne’s death (there is no historical reference, but Donizetti and his i-colleagues couldn’t resist a mad scene). Though a lucid Anne’s reconciliation to her fate would be more interesting, Radvanovsky navigates Donizetti’s convoluted end with superb dramatic and vocal smarts.

Peter Gelb‘s moves at The MET have an equal eye on artistic and marketing success.  This season’s staging of the Donizetti Tudor Queen Trilogy wins, thus far, on both accounts as Sondra Radvanovsky soars in the first leg of  the operatic marathon famously run by another great American soprano, Beverly Sills.  In a solid production and surrounded by a brilliant cast, Radvanovsky reigns in this historic performance of Anna Bolena.

Anna Bolena at The Metropolitan Opera, with conductor Marco Armiliato and Sondra Radvanovsky as Anna Bolena, Jamie Baron as Giovanna Seymour, Tamara Mumford as Mark Smeaton, Stephen Costello as Lord Riccardo Percy, and Ildar Abdrazakov as Enrico VIII.  Production by Sir David McVicar, set design by Robert Jones, costume design by Jenny Tiramani, lighting design by Paule Constable, and choreography by Andrew George.

Anna Bolena runs at The Metropolitan Opera through January 9, 2016.


Read more about The Metropolitan Opera‘s 2015/2016 production of Anna Bolena.

Read more about the cast of Anna Bolena:

Sondra Radvanovsky 

Jamie Barton 

Ildar Abdrazakov

Stephen Costello

Tamara Mumford

The Metropolitan Opera‘s Tudor Queen Trilogy continues in 2016 with Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux.


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