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ANNA BOLENA in Florence

Anna Bolena: Mariella Devia. Foto: Opera di Florenze.

ANNA BOLENA by Gaetano Donizetti

FLORENZE: It is truly surprising that such a Belcanto milestone like Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena had never been performed in Florence in modern times. On the other hand, the fortune of this work started in 1957, with the historical revival at La Scala with Maria Callas in a production by Luchino Visconti.

From the 1960s on, important primadonnas have included this opera in their repertoire, but none of them was called to perform it in Florence.  Old nineteenth century Florentine chronicles report only a handful of performances, beginning in 1832.

Thus this staging in Florence is an authentic event, something not to be missed, not least because the protagonist is one of the most important interpreters of Donizetti’s operas in the last decades, soprano Mariella Devia.

Henrik VIII: Roberto Scandiuzzi. Foto: Opera di Florenze

I am hard pressed to detect Graham Vicks hand in this production, set in the gloomy and steely scenes by Paul Brown, who also designed the beautiful and rich costumes, reminiscent of the Northern European painting in their shapes and colours; Henry VIII’s costumes stood out for their lavishness, with Roberto Scandiuzzi looking as if her has jumped off one of Hans Holbein’s well-known portraits.

The hunting scene was highly effective: Bolena and the King were on fake horses recalling images from British paintings, but whoever is familiar with

Florentine art could think also of Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno.

Vick’s staging has been reprised by Stefano Trespidi: the main characters’ acting was well thought of, but the same can not be said about the chorus, generally too static and with some moments when the movements were puppet-like almost like a parody.

From a mere musical point of view, the performance had a rather sleepy start, but caught life as it progressed. The score was played almost in its integrity, opening many pages that traditionally are cut, so that the opera acquired nearly Wagnerian proportions (about three hours and ten minutes of music).  In order to sustain such length (and notoriously not all Bolena’s music stays at the same high quality level), the opera would have needed better conducting than Roberto Abbado‘s slow and sleepy approach. The conductor proved to be able to follow the singers quite well, but failed to give a decisive imprint to this arduous score, which – deprived of theatrical vitality – at times sounded even boring.

From Anna Bolena in Florenze. To the left: Mariella Devia in the titelrole. Foto: Opera di Florenze

The protagonist, Mariella Devia, is a highly experienced Italian soprano, who knows quite well how to pace herself. She saved her energy in the first act, while showing all her strengths in the second, with an excellent duet with Seymour and an exhilarating finale, where she gave all of herself literally spellbinding the audience filled to capacity.

Rightly so, Ms. Devia, keeping into consideration her vocal characteristics, highlights the pathetic and sorrowful side of Anna Bolena, to the detriment of her regalness.  As a whole, her performance tended to emphasize the most lyrical moments – albeit at times with a certain lack of expressive pathos – over moments when a more vibrant vocal and declamatory presence would have been desirable.

Unfortunately she did not pay too much attention to the regal and incisive recitatives or some key phrases of this magnificent Donizetti role (one for all: the famous Giudici…ad Anna! ) which went totally unnoticed, even though perhaps a character such as the unfortunate Queen is not after all ideal to completely highlight her interpretative gifts.  One might rhetorically wonder who, in the current international scene, could sing this role with a better stylistic propriety.  The answer would be similarly rhetorical: nobody.

Next to her stood mezzo-soprano Sonia Ganassi as Giovanna Seymour. A highly skilled and intelligent singer. Ms. Ganassi has nevertheless lost some security and richness of timbre over the years.  Her ligne du chant was however quite accurate, which allowed her to achieve several truly felicitous moments, particularly in Act II.

Josè Maria Lo Monaco was quite convincing in the difficult role of the page Smeton, and created a more than acceptable character acting-wise.

Unfortunately the male cast was not even remotely on the same level.  Percy was Shlava Mukeria, a Georgian tenor with a tiny and unpleasant voice; inaudible in the low register, it acquires a certain security above the stave.  His vocal delivery is exactly the opposite of the typically Italian expansiveness that Donizetti requires from a tenor.  The quality of his timbre being truly poor, what emerged was rather a caricature of the character of Percy, who in theory should be an ardent and disappointed young lover.

Roberto Scandiuzzi was an unacceptable Enrico VIII, his voice having lost colour, support, shine and even a good pitch.  Barely adequate was Luca Casalin as Sir Hervey, while Konstantin Gorny’s Lord Rochefort was several notches below any acceptable level.

The performance was in the whole very warmly greeted by the audience, with a triumphal ovation for Mariella Devia.

Review by Fabio Bardelli, translation from italian to english Nicola Lischi

ANNA BOLENA by Gaetano Donizetti

Florence, Italy. Teatro Comunale. 15th march, 2012

Direttore: Roberto Abbado

Regia: Graham Vick,  (ripresa da Stefano Trespidi). Scene e costumi: Paul Brown, (ripresi da Elena Cicorella)

Luci: Giuseppe di Iorio, (riprese da Gianni Paolo Mirenda)

The cast:

Enrico VIII: Roberto Scandiuzzi

Anna Bolena: Mariella Devia

Giovanna Seymour: Sonia Ganassi

Lord Rochefort: Konstantin Gorny

Lord Riccardo Percy: Shalva Mukeria

Smeton: José Maria Lo Monaco

Sir Hervey: Luca Casalin

Orchestra e Coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Maestro del Coro: Piero Monti

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