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Donizetti was Europe’s leading opera composer in the 1830s. Verdi and Wagner subsequently eclipsed him and he was famously dismissed in the 1954 Grove which sneered that music written as rapidly as his “can be no more than successful improvisation”.
Herbert von Karajan, Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland and Beverley Sills spearheaded a mid-20th century revival that saw his famous Tudor trilogy re-emerge as popular companion pieces. Melbourne Opera successfully presented Maria Stuarda last year. Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) is now on and plans are under way for a Roberto Devereux in 2017 — completing the trilogy, all three of which are Australian premiere seasons.
Anna Bolena sees Donizetti’s composition at its romantic pinnacle and the one with which, halfway through an illustrious career, he found his voice and enjoyed his first international success.
Richard Divall conducted last year’s Maria Stuarda and his translation and performing edition was the basis of this season of Anna Bolena in a season dedicated to Dame Joan Sutherland.
Divall was scheduled to conduct this season but withdrew due to indisposition. Greg Hocking conducted an alert, responsive orchestral accompaniment. Suzanne Chaundy, who enjoyed success in Melbourne earlier this year with Tannhauser andOur Man in Havana, directed Anna Bolena in an uncomplicated and highly dramatic way, benefiting from simple, effective set and lighting designs by Christina Logan-Bell and Lucy Birkinshaw.
In the title role, Elena Xanthoudakis was compelling, effortlessly negotiating Donizetti’s challenging vocal writing and acting powerfully as she did it.
Sally Wilson as Jane Seymour, the queen’s chief lady-in-waiting, who is, unbeknown to Anna, the king’s new lover, was no less impressive and both statuesque singers delivered performances of authority.
Percy, a mellifluous high tenor, previously banished for being the queen’s former lover but who has been recalled from exile by the king, was sung beautifully by Boyd Owen.
Lord Rochefort, Anne’s brother, George Boleyn, was impressively portrayed by Phillip Calcagno.
The glorious Tudor costuming was designed by Jenny Tate while complementary hair, make-up and wigs were prepared by Amanda Commings.
Reviewer: Peter Burch