It took Anna Bolena 180 years to reach the Met, but the opera isn’t exactly unknown here. The New York City Opera performed it often in the 1970s, primarily as a vehicle for Beverly Sills, and concert performances have kept Donizetti’s flame flickering elsewhere. Now the extravaganza – an italo-romanticised portrait of Anne Boleyn – has returned to Lincoln Center with almost everyone’s favourite overhyped diva in the title role.
Never mind Anna Bolena. One might as well name the show Anna Netrebko.
The new production, which opened the Met season on Monday amid wild fanfare, does nothing to impede the protagonist. David McVicar has reduced the drama to a tasteful pageant. Robert Jones has designed handsome, neutral sets. Jenny Tiramani has dressed everyone in clothes reminiscent of Holbein. There is nothing particularly exciting here, yet nothing particularly offensive. These days that probably can be read as praise.
Netrebko enjoyed predictable ovations, and acknowledged some of them mid-scene with a ravishing smile. Still, it would be an exaggeration to claim that her Bolena can rank with such paragons as Callas and Caballé. Netrebko sang the reflective passages sweetly, with shimmering pianissimo tone and a lovely legato. She earned admiration for holding nothing back in forte outbursts. She comported herself with queenly dignity as needed, and with unaccustomed restraint.
Ideally, however, this excruciating challenge demands a voice one size bigger and one size heavier. It also demands an easier top extension and a better coloratura technique. (Trills? What trills?)
With Elina Garanca on maternity leave, the crucial duties of Giovanna (aka Jane) Seymour were inherited by Ekaterina Gubanova – theatrically sympathetic if vocally strident. A third Russian, Ildar Abdrazakov, swaggered lustily as nasty Enrico VIII (call him Henry) and sang lustily as long as the line did not dip too low. Stephen Costello coped nobly, though not always comfortably, with the lofty outbursts of Percy. Tamara Mumford looked better than she sounded as the boyish Smeton. Marco Armiliato sustained reasonable cohesion in the pit, and supported his stressed cast conscientiously. One of those nights . . .