Opera in a nutshell: Women go mad and men gain power.
With one tiny adjustment, that holds true for Gaetano Donizettis Anna Bolena, the opening opera in The Met: Live in HD 2011-2012 season.
After a successful run last year in our local movie theater, the live Metropolitan Opera broadcast contract has been renewed. Last year, we had a slow start with one audience as low as 35 people. But word spread about the spectacular productions, and audiences grew to more than 100 on a regular basis. So get your ticket and your popcorn for a new round of operas from New York beamed into the Durango Stadium 9.
Donizettis Anna Bolena has everything youd want in an overwrought Romantic opera. First, the music is gorgeous. Secondly, Bolena offers a stroll through the Tudor court of Henry VIII. The plot features sexual intrigue, deceit, skullduggery, political gamesmanship and a marvelous mad scene.
When the opera begins, the sexiest stuff has already taken place. That may be a disappointment to some. Henry has cast aside his first wife, married his second, Anne Boleyn, and, true to form, hes looking around for a third. She happens to be at hand in the person of Jane Seymour.
In Act I, Anne (portrayed by soprano Anna Netrebko) is at Richmond Castle lamenting her situation. Her brother, Lord Rochefort, arrives and sees Lord Percy among the courtiers. He was Annes first love, and that spells trouble. There is a seduction scene between the king (Ildar Abdrazakov) and poor Jane (Ekaterina Gubanova) when Henry promises everything love, marriage and the crown.
Unbeknownst to everyone but Jane, the king has set a trap to prove Anne is unfaithful. The act ends with a surprise entrance by Henry compromising Anne. It concludes with some spectacular ensemble singing about love, loss, betrayal and infidelity.
In yet another trap, Act II brings the two women of Henrys current attention together: Anne and Jane. He has sent Jane on a terrible errand to persuade the queen to confess an affair with Percy. How smart is that? Anne refuses, and the next scene presents Anne on trial. She, Rochefort, Percy and others are sentenced to death. The men are offered clemency, but they refuse unless Anne is also freed. No deal.
Spoiler alert: In the final scene, Anne is in the Tower of London reviewing her life as she awaits execution. Its here when Donizetti gives us what opera lovers adore: A mad scene. It doesnt quite rival the mother of all mad scenes, the horrific conclusion of Donizettis Lucia di Lammermour. But Annes mad scene is full of pathos and some mighty beautiful singing.
Ah dolci guidami, sings Anne, of the sweetness of happier times. Check out www.youtube.com if you want to get a preview.
Anne goes mad when she hears the bells and cannons announcing Henrys marriage to Jane. Anne wildly curses the couple then comes to her senses. Thats the contrast to Lucia who goes stark-raving crazy and dies.
At the end of Anna Bolena, Anne comes to terms with her life and accepts her fate. She concludes by asking that her persecutors be forgiven. Hmm.
At the very end, guards take Anne from her prison cell to be beheaded. Those who know Tudor history, will recall that King Henry showed some mercy. He decided Anne would not die at the stake, burned like a heretic. Instead, he granted an easier death, execution by one blow of an axe. What a guy.
When Donizetti wrote Anna Bolena, he already had about 30 operas behind him. It premiered in 1830 at Milans La Scala and was a huge success. It remained popular for the next 50 years. But after the turn of the century Anna Bolena fell into obscurity until the inimitable Maria Callas revived the role again in Milan. From that performance in 1957, the work has remained in the European and American repertoire. Callas and other leading 20th century divas such as Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills and Montserrat Caballe carried Annes tragic story forward.
The Met production is directed by David McVicar and conducted by Marco Armiliato.
The next broadcast live from New York will be Oct. 29. Mozarts great opera, Don Giovanni will feature Mariusz Kwiechen, who is making his Metropolitan debut. Those lucky enough to live in the Southwest have seen Mariusz in the same role at the Santa Fe Opera.
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at email@example.com.