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Profoundly Satisfying

Donizetti's 'Anna Bolena' from English Touring Opera,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Having performed Donizetti's Maria Stuarda in 2005, English Touring Opera continues its enterprising mining of areas neglected by our other regular opera companies by staging the composer's earlier Tudor opera, Anna Bolena. This is, if anything, even less historical than Maria Stuarda, but you don't go to the opera house for a history lesson, so if you forget history and concentrate on what Donizetti and his librettist Felice Romani have to offer, you get a profoundly satisfying evening.

In this version of the story, Anna (Anne Boleyn) has married Enrico (Henry) more for the throne than love encouraged by her brother Rocheford (Lord Rochford ). Enrico is already in love with Giovanna (Jane Seymour) a lady in waiting to Anna and keen to ditch Anna. Anna was previously contracted in marriage to Riccardo Percy (Lord Percy) and they are still in love. Unbeknownst to Anna her page Smeton (Smeaton) is also in love with her. The result, inevitably, ends in tragedy and death for Anna, Rocheford, Riccardo and Smeaton, but not before Anna has had a mad scene and Rocheford and Riccardo a homo-erotic scene of male bonding.

Julie Unwin (Anne Boleyn) with the executioner
Julie Unwin (Anne Boleyn) with the executioner

Director James Conway has tried to re-historicise this by adding an Archbishop Cranmer figure (mistakenly beardless, he did not shave his beard off till later) and Mary Tudor, as well as an infant Elizabeth (who seems curiously without a nurse). The results are not intrusive but I don't think they much help Donizetti and Felice Romani's story.

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Copyright © 15 March 2008 Robert Hugill, London UK


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