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.
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.