Monday, February 25, 2013


ANNA BOLENA         New Production Premiere
Opera Cologne 
17 February 2013

Musikalische Leitung Alessandro De Marchi 
Inszenierung Tobias Hoheisel & Imogen Kogge 
Bühne & Kostüme Tobias Hoheisel 
Licht Andreas Grüter 
Dramaturgie Birgit Meyer 
Chorleitung Jens Olaf Buhrow 

Enrico VIII. Gidon Saks 

Anna Bolena  Olesya Golovneva 
Giovanna Seymour  Regina Richter 
Lord Rochefort  Matias Tosi 
Lord Riccardo  Percy Luciano Botelho 
Smeton  Katrin Wundsam 
Sir Hervey  Alexander Fedin 
Chor der Oper Köln 
Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Holbein: Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, Jane Seymour
Have you heard the joke about King Henry VIII that was rumored to have circulated in 16th century England?

Question: What are the two things every red-blooded nobleman wants most?
Answer: A dead ex-wife and the Tudor crown.

Henry VIII (1491-1547) married six times, killing off two of his wives. The most famous of his consorts was his second spouse Anne Boleyn, who has become the subject of countless documentations, factual, fictional and factional, since her execution on 19 May 1536 in the Tower of London. Among the musical tributes to Anne, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena (1830) is probably the most famous.

Opera Cologne has recently unveiled a new production of the work under the direction of Imogen Kogge and Tobias Hoheisel, who also designed the set and costumes. Visually, it is a striking but somewhat confusing affair. The stage is divided into two sections (see photo below). On one side, a stark room painted in egg-shell white adorned only by plain rectangular wall panels. Most of the action takes place within this space. On the other side of the stage, part of the entrance hall in a stately home. A dark, wide wooden staircase, sweeps up to the landing, which is dominated by what looks like a copy of Holbein’s famous portrait of Henry.
Tobias Hoheisel's set for Anna Belena, featuring a copy of Holbein's portrait of Henry VIII, whose original was completed in 1536.

The conspicuous and awkward positioning of this portrait tends to distract from whatever takes place throughout the course of the action. For starters, it was completed as part of a massive mural in 1536, shortly after Anne Boleyn’s execution.  It served as a commemoration of Henry’s marriage to her successor, Jane Seymour.  Of course, its relevance to Opera Cologne's new production may be moot in the first place because the canvas cannot be seen by audiences sitting in the first few rows at house left; a wall bisecting the stage blocks it from their view.

Let’s assume for a moment, that the anacronistic presence of the portrait is relevant. Are Hoheisel and Kogge then framing the events in the opera as a stream of flashbacks? Flashbacks to what? Felice Romani’s libretto places the action squarely in dramatic real-time; there’s no past to backflash. The appearance of tall and slim Gidon Saks as Enrico VIII, dressed in non-Tudor attire comes as a shock and confuses the time frame of the action further, because Henry, who was on his way to becoming mega-chunky in 1536, posed for the portrait around the time of his decision to have Anne executed. And Jane Seymour’s flaming Tudor-red gown evokes unintended visions of Maggie Smith's hilarious turn in Lettice and Lovage and pulls focus from everything except Henry’s portrait, even when Regina Richter, who portrays the conflicted object of Henry’s desire, is standing still in a corner. Anna’s flowing Tudor-white costume is no match against it, even if the attractive Olesya Goloneva in the title role is wearing it.
Tudorettes: Oöesya Goloneva (white), Regina Richter (red)

Which leads me to ask: Who is the central character in this production of Donizetti’s opera? Previous mountings I’ve witnessed, have convinced me that it’s Anna. But Regina Richter in her first-ever Giovanna commands every scene she’s in, simply by outsinging everybody with whom the score brings her in contact.  Her glowing mezzo goes from strength to strength in range and intensity and her coloratura flights are becoming ever more exciting . Olesya Goloneva, also making her role debut, delivers a sympathetic Anna, well-drilled and musically persuasive.  But a curious placidity in her stage presence prevents her queen from becoming compelling. The disparity in potency between Richter and Goloneva ablacates the big duet "Sul suo capo aggravi un Dio" of its heartrending poignance.
Luciano Botelho, Regina Richter, Olesya Goloneva, Alessandro di Marchi
No substantive objections can be raised against the spear side, but it grew clear as the premiere performance entered its third hour, that no one in the cast can compete vocally with Richter, save the aforementioned Saks, who sings a solid, imposing Enrico. Luciano Bothelo, as Anna’s former squeeze Percy, has good looks and a pleasing tenor going for him, but he scales the role’s upper tessitura with tenacity rather than with mastery. He is currently is having some success in the bel canto repertoire, but he might want to think about varying his vocal diet with a schmier of Mozart.  Matias Tosi (Rochefort) and Alexander Fedin (Harvey) perform good service.

Katrin Wundsam makes an all-too-brief appearance with the Page Smeton’s cavatina "Deh! non voler costringere a finta gioia il viso . . ."

Baroque specialist Alessandro de Marchi drives the performance energetically and cultivates a honeyed line from the Gürzenich Orchestra in the cantabile passages.  

Performances (mostly sold-out) continue through 10 March.

Photographs, grafix, post-production: Sam H. Shirakawa 

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