Donizetti – Anna Bolena
Enrico VIII – Alex Esposito
Anna Bolena – Eleonora Buratto
Giovanna Seymour – Silvia Tro Santafé
Lord Riccardo Percy – Ismael Jordi
Sir Hervey – Jorge Franco
Smeton – Nadezhda Karyazina
Lord Rochefort – Gerard Farreras
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana / Maurizio Benini.
Stage director – Jetske Mijnssen.
Palau de les Arts, València. Saturday, October 1st, 2022.
Tonight’s première of Anna Bolena marked the opening of the 2022 – 23 season at the Palau de les Arts. It’s an exciting season, including a revival of the acclaimed Poppea from Aix-en-Provence, and interestingly-cast productions of Ernani, Tristan und Isolde, and Jenůfa, plus lieder recitals from a number of notable singers. What’s more, the house’s legendary intermission buffet, with all-you-can-drink cava is back – although they could certainly benefit from actually labelling the food, given the prevalence of food allergies and how often plates here contain unexpected swine.
The staging of this Anna Bolena is the work of Jetske Mijnssen. A co-production between the Palau, the Teatro San Carlo, and De Nationale Opera, it has already been seen in Amsterdam, where it was widely praised. I must admit my own impressions are much more neutral. Mijnssen places the action clearly in the time of the story, the costumes (Klaus Bruns) are of the period, providing us with mock-Tudor visuals. Indeed, Mijnssen gives us some striking stage pictures – Anna sitting alone at the start, or being trapped alone within solid walls for her closing scene. The set (Ben Baur) was impressive, giving us either a stark wall, or the wall transforming into a series of doors through which we could see hanging prisoners, Enrico & Giovanna’s wedding, or wigged judges appearing.
Indeed, it felt that while Mijnssen was able to give us some intriguing images, on the whole her direction felt prosaic. There was much stereotypically operatic gesture acting. Similarly, the presence of a ballet or extras on stage, particularly during duets or solo scenes, suggested that in Anna’s world, there was never an opportunity to be truly alone – and that space only came through insanity. And yet, more than once, I found the presence of the perambulating extras a bit de trop, where Mijnssen could have fully focused on her principals to drive the action even further forward. She was, however, exceptionally fortunate to have a cast that was not only capable of acting their roles, but also really sing them too.
But before we get to the principals, a word about the performances of the house forces under Maurizio Benini. Tonight, they reminded us of why they are among the very best orchestras and choruses in the world. Thanks to their superb responsiveness, Benini was able to lead an exceptionally tight reading, off the stick, with remarkable rhythmic assurance. The sheer accuracy with which the strings attacked the rapid-fire writing was staggering. The characterful winds, the brass that didn’t put a single foot wrong all night, combined with this terrific acoustic, this was orchestral playing of the highest distinction. Then, there was the singing of the Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana. Is there any other opera chorus in the world that sings with such flawless beauty of tone and with immaculate ensemble and blend? Yet also capable of singing and negotiating complex stage movements with ease. As always, they had been superbly prepared by Francesc Perales.
Tonight marked Eleonora Buratto’s debut in the title role. Listening to her, one has a sense that she represents that great Italian tradition harking back to the original Anna, Giuditta Pasta. Buratto brought to her role not only a native clarity of diction, but also a deep understanding of style and immaculate musicianship. She ornamented the lines in her numbers with creativity, making us believe this evening that she’s the only person in the world who can sing this role, all while demonstrating a technique that allows her to take exciting risks with the line – not to mention seemingly limitless breath control. Her legato is milky smooth, able to shade the lines with ease, pulling back to give us pianissimi that reach far into the house, or releasing an exciting, blazing top. The florid writing was dispatched with panache, while the voice is founded in a full and juicy bottom. This is a major assumption of this iconic role and I very much hope we’ll get to hear Buratto take on the other Donizetti queens very soon.
Buratto sang a thrilling confrontation with Silvia Tro Santafé’s Giovanna Seymour. Making a return home, I must admit that the València-born mezzo sounded slightly out of sorts at first. Perhaps it was the added pressure of singing in front of a home crowd that meant that Tro had a tendency to sing sharp throughout Act 1. By Act 2, she had relaxed, dispatching her music with profound feeling, digging deep into a resonant chest register, using the text to find meaning, while soaring to an easy bright and shining top. As a result, her big scene with Anna was electrifying.
Alex Esposito brought his familiar bass to the role of Enrico VIII. A son of Bergamo, just like Donizetti, Esposito has an implicit understanding of this music. He dispatched the florid writing with ease, turning the corners without ever losing the integrity of the tone, while also being able to descend to a resonant bottom. As Percy, Ismael Jordi sounded also as if he needed a little more time to warm up – a tendency to approach higher notes from below with some heavy lifting was less apparent later on in the evening. The passagework also tended to be a bit aspirated. Yet he also pinged out excitingly on high, singing with a depth of feeling that made his role much more than a series of fireworks.
In the remainder of the cast, Nadezhda Karyazina sang with a focused, agile mezzo as Smeton, the voice healthy-sounding, with good sheen. Gerard Farreras brought a velvety bass to Rochefort, while Jorge Franco’s handsome, bright and well-placed tenor, suggests he may also become a promising Percy in the future.
There was a sense of excitement arriving at the house tonight – the prospect of seeing friends, of that intermission buffet, but above all, the promise that this cast held. Tonight, they most certainly delivered. While Mijnssen’s staging was unobtrusive, tonight was very much all about the singing – and what singing! A stupendous account of the title role, from the leading Italian soprano of today, a cast of principals and a conductor who really understand this music, all combined with a sensational orchestra and chorus. This was a major night for the house, one that those present will recall for a very long time. It was greeted with a roaring standing ovation from the audience.