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Another triumph for Sondra Radvanovsky

The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts
04/28/2018 -  & May 3, 5, 8, 11, 16, 20, 24, 26, 2018
Gaetano Donizetti: Anna Bolena
Sondra Radvanovsky*/Tracy Cantin (Anna Bolena), Keri Alkema (Giovanna Seymour), Christian Van Horn (Enrico), Bruce Sledge (Lord Riccardo Percy), Allyson McHardy (Smeton), Thomas Goerz (Lord Rochefort), Jonathan Johnson (Hervey)
The Canadian Opera Company Chorus, Sandra Horst (chorus master), The Canadian Opera Company Orchestra, Corrado Rovaris (conductor)
Stephen Lawless (director), Benoît Dugardyn (set designer), Ingeborg Bernerth (costume designer), Mark McCullough (original lighting designer), Reinhard Traub (lighting designer)

K. Alkema & S. Radvanovsky (© Michael Cooper)

The third of Donizetti’s “Tudor Trilogy” has finally arrived in Toronto, the other two having been performed here in 2010 (Maria Stuarda) and 2014 (Roberto Devereux), in productions from the Dallas Opera under the direction of Stephen Lawless.

When I first got to know this opera I was struck by its melancholy aspect and, in fact, I dismissed it as unwarrantedly droopy when the COC performed it in 1984 with Joan Sutherland. For whatever reason (a venue that ensures greater immediacy certainly helps), this production vividly presents the various reasons why its characters are so conflicted. Anna (Anne Boleyn) has reason to be unsure of the fidelity of her husband Enrico (Henry VIII) while her confidant, Giovanna (Jane Seymour), who turns out to be her rival for his affections, is herself guilt-ridden. Then Anna’s old flame, Lord Riccardo (Percy), arrives, bringing his anguish into the fraught situation. A young musician, Smeton, himself in love with Anna, blunders in and unwittingly gives the king an excuse to imprison Anna and others. Anna’s brother, Rochefort, and the king’s snoop, Hervey, contribute further complications. Director Stephen Lawless has also created a silent role for Anna’s daughter, the red-haired Elizabeth, who becomes a pawn in the tug of war. Terrific singing and clever direction combine to create an involving evening.

The audience is treated to a mimed history lesson during the overture as the back story is explained (we also get to see the king’s first wife, the spurned and unhappy Katherine of Aragon). This works well, as does Lawless’s symbolic handling of the ever-present chorus.

Sondra Radvanovsky has become renowned for the title role and further cements her stature as a local favourite. There is a lot of lovely vocalism which she accomplishes with stunning power, but she also adds an edge of anguish and hysteria (very appropriate of course). There is an amazing degree of such vocal acting throughout the cast. Giovanna is portrayed by another soprano (in a traditionally mezzo role) and Keri Alkema also emotes expressively. Matching the two female leads is Christian Van Horn as the king. He most definitely lacks the physique du rôle for Henry VIII, being tall and lanky; however his demeanor oozes cynicism and gross entitlement. In addressing Giovanna he sings of love, but it is clear that she is yet another of his pawns.

(My only quibble is the costuming for Enrico. Simply not kingly enough.)

Bruce Sledge as Percy arrives rather late in the action and, while his voice is just right for this repertoire, his role in the action is overshadowed by the central triangle of Anna, Enrico, and Giovanna.

At the final bows Sondra Radvanovsky and conductor Corrado Rovaris exchanged a conspiratorial glance. Had there been a near mishap? If so, I failed to notice. The whole show moves along very well. If one expects a bel canto feast it is certainly there, but with the added bonus of a surprisingly gripping drama. Some opera fans are going back for a second viewing.

Michael Johnson



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