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Following a successful outing with Maria Stuarda in 2015, Melbourne Opera returns to Donizetti's Tudor period, staging what is, remarkably, Anna Bolena's professional Australian debut. Dynamic singing, led by soprano Elena Xanthoudakis, is to the fore in this production that's also strong on historic drama and attractive design.
Donizetti was Europe’s leading opera composer in the 1830s. Verdi and Wagner subsequently eclipsed him and he was famously dismissed in the 1954 Grove which sneered that music written as rapidly as his “can be no more than successful improvisation”.
That it has taken more than 180 years for this towering giant of the bel canto repertoire to receive a professional debut in Australia is amazing enough. But that it has taken the resources of the small, independently funded Melbourne Opera to mount that premiere is even more remarkable. Further, the company have already announced their intention to mount the third production of this Donizetti trilogy in 2017: another Australian debut to which this reviewer eagerly looks forward.
Anna Bolena tells the story of the last days of Anne Boleyn’s life. Originally his mistress, Anne is now Henry VIII’s second wife and Queen of England. Unfortunately, she has been unable to give him the male heir he desires. Henry doesn’t exactly handle this well – first beginning an affair with Anne’s friend, Jane Seymour, then plotting to entrap her in a lie of his own construction to frame her for adultery thus giving him a reason to have her executed.
For the second of their “Tudor Trilogy” of Donizetti operas Melbourne Opera has chalked up a major success with Anna Bolena. Such are the demands placed on the principal singers, it is small wonder it has taken so long to be performed by a professional Australian company. In particular, much rests on the quality of the leading lady.
Melbourne Opera, in recent years, has established a reputation for enabling keen opera goers (especially bel cantists) to experience rarely performed works. Remarkably or not, this new production marks the first Australian professional production of Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, which was premièred in 1830. The opera was widely performed over the next three decades but then languished until 1957, when it was triumphantly revived by Maria Callas and Luchino Visconti, at La Scala.
Melbourne Opera continues their lavish presentation of Donizetti’s Tudor Trilogy with the Australian professional premiere of dramatically charged bel canto opera Anna Bolena.
Donizetti’s 1830 opera features a compelling storyline peopled with intriguing historical figures. Anna Bolena covers the final three months of the life of doomed Queen Anne Boleyn, as she spirals from rosily beloved royal to mentally unbalanced prisoner.
Once again Melbourne Opera has proved that it is a company up for a challenge. After successful concert performances of Rienzi, another of Wagner’s operas neglected by local companies in recent times beckoned. A fully staged production of the1861 Paris version of Tannhäuser is a much more daunting task, but members of the creative team had already explored a number of production strategies in their imaginative use of video for Der Freischütz and this experience was put to excellent use for Tannhäuser.