Music: Gaetano Donizetti
Libretto: Felice Romani
Director: Alessandro Televi
Reviewer: Jacqui Onions
A first for the Welsh National Opera, Anna Bolena follows the events leading up to the end of Anne Boleyn’s life. Beginning at the point of the birth of her daughter, Elizabeth, Henry VIII has lost interest in his wife and turned his attentions to lady in waiting Jane Seymour. The fateful series of events that consequently unfold ultimately result in the beheading of Anne Boleyn. This famous tale from English history is presented with passion by a hugely talented cast and chorus, complemented beautifully by the WNO orchestra.
Serena Farnocchia is stunning as Anne Boleyn; her acting and vocals are faultless. From troubled soul to inner strength and finally in her madness, Farnocchia creates a believable Anne Boleyn, exploring each area of her character. Alastair Miles’ height and build make him look every inch the imposing Henry VIII but he doesn’t fully explore both the charisma and tyranny that the king is famous for. This unfortunately doesn’t maximise the contrast between Henry and Anne’s former love, Lord Percy – played with sincerity by Robert McPherson, whose beautiful voice and personality endear him to the audience. Katharine Goeldner as Jane Seymour, Faith Sherman as Mark Smeaton and Daniel Grice as Lord Rochefort also give strong performances and are a joy to watch.
This solid performance of an engaging opera is unfortunately let down a little by its visual impact. The set, designed by Madeleine Boyd, is sparse and dark, reflecting the mood of the piece, but doesn’t give the cast much to work with. For one scene a translucent wall is used to give the impression of the court in session behind the action on the stage but the shadows cast on it are distracting rather than adding any artistic value. The costumes are also dark and unflattering on the female cast and chorus.
The visual issues aside, whether your interest in Anna Bolena is historical or as an opera fan, the Welsh National Opera provide an enjoyable evening.