Anna Bolena at WNO

Last Saturday, I went to WNO (again!) to see Donizetti’s Anna Bolena.

Starting with the positives: The singing was overall very good, especially Serena Farnocchia as Anne Boleyn and Katharine Goeldner as Jane Seymour. Their duet in the second half of the opera was very moving and well acted. Alastair Miles sang his role of Henry VIII perfectly well but there wasn’t really any sense of power or manipulativeness from him. The lighting for the set of the final scene and also the park scene was clever and made the whole scene interesting to look at.

Serena Farnocchia as Anna Bolena

But that’s pretty much all I have to say that was good about this performance. Anna Bolena is not, in my opinion, one of Donizetti’s best works and the first half in particular winds on and on with no obvious meaning or direction. The plot makes next no sense and not much happens for a lot of the opera. But the main let-down was the production. The sets were bleak, completely monochrome and the revolving stage seemed to serve no purpose whatsoever. In the prison scenes, there was more light than the scenes set at court. The costumes were, quite frankly, hideous. The women wore vaguely 50s-style dresses, the men wore strangely shaped coats and then the King was wearing something that appeared to involve chainmail, leather and fur all at the same time. The direction was boring, apart from in the scene where she goes mad and at the end nothing happened. Surely you could at least just have somebody step forward holding a sword or axe, as though about to kill her? But no, she just stood there facing the back of the stage. The conducting wasn’t particularly inspired either – it seemed to all be going very slowly but that may not have had anything to do with the conducting.

Tosca at WNO

Last night, my mum and I went to Cardiff to see Puccini’s Tosca performed by WNO. Tosca  has been one of my favourite operas for a long time but I’ve never actually seen it live. We had seats in the front row of the stalls and directly in the middle which in my opinion was the best place to be sitting in the entire hall.

The main thing that struck me about this performance was the set and costume design and the lighting. It was all done in a ‘realistic’ style, which can sometimes be boring, but I think with Tosca, it’s the best way to do it. The set for Act 1 was very reminiscent of Italian-style churches, but still managed to appear closed and oppressive, like the atmosphere of the opera. For Act 2, the set was the same shape, a kind of cross-section of the room, so that the effect of a kind of terrifying beauty was the same. Act 3, though, had a more open set, apart from the angel that looms over the stage, sword pointing downwards as though to spear the people below. For the dawn scene, the lighting, which was excellent throughout the performance, really came into its own. The sky behind the battlements faded from blue to gold beautifully and gave a wonderfully dramatic backdrop to the equally dramatic plot.

The final moments of Act 3

Mary Elizabeth WIlliams sang the title role well and managed to make her character likeable in Acts 1 and 3. Her Vissi d’arte was moving but a bit too harsh and jagged in places. The acting was OK but rather clichéd, especially in Act 2, where there was lots of agonised pacing and leaning her head on the wall. Gwyn Hughes Jones, who seems to be WNO’s default tenor (I’ve seen him so far as Don Jose, Don Ottavio, Rodolfo, Manrico and now Cavaradossi), was, as ever, a good but not outstanding singer. However, his acting was not particularly impressive either and there was no chemistry between him and WIlliams. Claudio Otelli, as Scarpia, was an excellent actor and made a gorgeously chilling Scarpia, particularly during the Te Deum at the end of Act 1.

I really enjoyed this performance but mostly for the production, lighting and directing. I hope to see the production again but perhaps with a different cast (a different tenor for once, maybe!)