Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, in a production by Stephen Lawless, opened last night at the COC. Bel canto fans, canary fanciers and, just maybe, the rest of us should rush and see it. The singing is extraordinary. The cast is led by Sondra Radvanovsky in the title role and she gives, pretty much, a masterclass in bel canto technique. The control is extraordinary with gleaming top notes, exquisitely floated pianissimo, genuine trills and real emotion. Only a slight raspiness occasionally evident in the recits even hinted that this was a singer who was too sick to perform only a few days ago. Where to go next among some very fine performances? Bruce Sledge as Percy I think. This was thrilling tenor singing with passion, ringing high notes and wonderful musicality.
For the last few years the COC has had a fairly glitzy evening at which the next season is announced and there are interviews, a few performances etc. This year, for whatever reason, the two elements were divorced. The season was announced in a press release win January with no fanfare; not even a press conference. The glitzy bit happened last night with a cocktail reception and a stage event hosted by Brent Bambury.
I find it interesting the way some opera composers become canonical to the point where their most unsuccessful (often deservedly so) works still get produced while others, equally famous in their day, disappear pretty much entirely. One of the latter group is Gaspare Spontini who had a long career stretching from the the late 18th into the middle of the 19th centuries during which he was active in Italy, Paris, Vienna and Germany. There was a revival of his La Vestale at La Scala with Visconti directing and Callas in the title role but otherwise the 20th century pretty much ignored him. So obscure had he become that the Wikipedia entry for his operas describes his La fuga in maschera as “genre unknown”. Perhaps that’s not so surprising as the work was last performed in 1800 and the score was thought to be lost until it turned up in an English bookshop in 2007. Subsequently it was performed in 2012 at the Teatro GB Pergolesi in Jesi as part of the Festival Pergolesi Spontini.
Pergolesi’s relatively popular comedy La serva padrona was originally intended to be performed as an intermezzo for his opera seria Il prigionier superbo. It’s therefore fitting that recordings by substantially the same forces, though recorded two years apart, should be released as a package. The recordings were made at the Teatro G.B. Pergolesi in Jesi in 2009 and 2011 respectively. Both performances were directed by Henning Brockhaus and feature the Accademia Barocca di I Virtuosi Italiani conducted by Corrado Rovaris. The works are presented on separate disks rather than the having the two halves of the intermezzo inserted in the intervals of the more serious work as they would originally have been performed.
Stephen Lawless’ production of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux opened last night at the Four Seasons Centre. It’s the last of the so called “Tudor Trilogy” and deals, ostensibly, with the last days of the reign of Elizabeth I. Events are loosely based on history. In this case the queen’s relationship with Robert Devereux, earl of Essex; his failure in Ireland, fall from grace, rebellion and execution for treason(1). Here the drama is turned into a simple story of royal jealousy featuring two fictional characters; The duke of Nottingham, Devereux’ bestie, and his wife Sara, confidante of the queen and in love with Devereux. It’s probably best seen as a logical continuation of the anti Tudor theme of the previous operas. There’s a bombastic, lustful monarch more concerned with his/her love life than affairs of state and there’s a scheming arch-Protestant minister responsible for the death of someone who doesn’t deserve for it for reasons of state (here the younger Cecil). The trouble here is that there is no obvious martyr. However one looks at it Devereux, brings about his own downfall.