After a less than satisfactory introduction to Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in a MetHD broadcast last year it was with some trepidation that I approached the DVD version recorded at the Wiener Staatsoper and also starring Anna Netrebko. I need not have worried because it’s very good indeed. It has a stronger cast, Eric Genovese’s relatively simple production trumps David McVicar’s overstuffed effort and Evelino Pido doesn’t try and make the orchestra sound like it’s playing Wagner. The sound on the DVD is also way better than it was on that broadcast.
I’m not going to say this is the most inspired opera in the repertoire. The music is quite formulaic though with some really strong moments like the Act 2 duet between Anna and Seymour. The story is also about as contrived and inaccurate as one expects from a 19th century Italian opera based on English history. On the other hand it’s a great showpiece for the singers. Genovese’s production recognises that. He doesn’t try to do more than give an elegant and uncluttered platform for them to perform on, facilitated by a revolving stage that minimises lengthy scene changes (The bane of Met productions. I guess they have to justify those $400,000 p.a. stage hands). Only right at the very end does he get all symbolic with quite clever use of the young Elizabeth and some interesting fabric work for Anna.
This is a very strong cast. Anna Netrebko sounds really good here in the title role with a nice mix of power and agility. I think these heavier bel canto roles really suit where her voice is right now. She gets terrific backing from Elina Garanča; gorgeous of voice and in every other way, as Giovanna Seymour. Ildebrando d’Arcangelo is a dark toned and menacing Henrico. The dramatic chemistry between the three of them is terrific. The rest of the cast is also very good indeed with some particularly fine and Italianate singing from Francesco Meli as Percy. Evelino Pido, conducting, also seems to find the right balance between drama and the agility at the core of the music.
Video direction is by Brian Large and it’s pretty decent. The sparse sets and lack of elaborate stage action suit his tendency to focus in on the principals. The sound, both DTS surround and PCM stereo, is very good indeed. The picture is generally good though it can’t really cope with some of the less well lit patches. The Blu-ray version may be better in that regard. The only bonuses on the disk are a couple of two minute intros to the acts by Elena Garanča. The documentation is standard DGG and there are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles.