photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Anna Bolena is a study in contrasts. The music exposes clear distinctions between public and private faces, between fantasy and longing to recapture a sweetly imagined past and affairs, and intrigues and deceptions.
The 2011-2012 season of Live in HD transmissions from the Met opened with an old-school production of Anna Bolena centered around Anna Netrebko. This production by David McVicar added to the contrasts in the music itself. McVicar contrasted a traditional and simple presentation of characters onstage with sophisticated transitions between scenes involving quickly programmed, and elegantly conceived mechanicals.
While the old-school blocking of characters allowed us to focus on the beauty of the bel canto production of this excellent cast, there were times, especially early on, where the production became visually sleepy.
Conductor Marco Armiliato was criticized by Anthony Tommasini for "routine conducting" during the season opening concert on September 26. Tommasini felt that Armiliato needed to better "instill...intensity into the music." I heard that performance on MetRadio and felt it was fair criticism. This performance was noticeably different. Armiliato kept the music leaning forward and got a much edgier sound from the orchestra.
This cast ensemble proved that this opera is more than a diva machine. Tamara Mumford, as Mark Smeaton, was a pleasant surprise, and took the character through a sensational arc. Her understanding of the locket aria was centered on a contrast of its own--between the character Smeaton's ability to live in fantasy and his slowly dawning realization that he is outside of the opera listening in. Smeaton's sudden leap back into the opera, through the gory representation of his tortured confession served to remind us that brutal force was always lurking just below the surface throughout this opera.
Netrebko saturated Anna Bolena in sorrow and rage. The amazing close-ups that were possible through the Live in HD cameras created a surrealistic force in her portrayal. Though she absolved the King and his new bride before being led to her own execution, the force and intensity that Netrebko unleashed into the music made any forgiveness chilling.