by Lynn on May 21, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

Sondra Radvanovsky
Photo: Michael Cooper



At the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Music by Gaetano Donizetti

Libretto by Felice Romani

Conducted by Corrado Rovaris

Directed by Stephen Lawless

Set by Benoit Dugardyn

Costumes by Ingeborg Bernerth

Original lighting by Mark McCullough

Lighting by Reinhard Traub

Cast: Keri Alkema

Sondra Radvanovsky

Allyson McHardy

Christian Van Horn

Thomas Goerz

Bruce Sledge

Jonathan Johnson

The performances are glorious and almost everything else in this production is not.

NOTE: As music/opera is not my forte, I am reviewing this as a piece of theatre.

I have also pre-recorded an interview on the opera for CLASSICAL UNDERGROUND, CIUT 89.5 fm, that will be broadcast on Wed. May 23, from 6 pm to 8 pm.

 The Story.  Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) is married to Enrico (Henry VIII) but is not happy. She married Enrico three years before after he divorced Catherine of Aragon. Enrico was desperate for a son but Anna had a daughter (Elizabeth). There is intrigue in the court. She rejected Percy, her first love, to marry Enrico. Now Enrico’s eye is roving to Giovanna Seymour (Anna’s Lady-in-waiting). Matters escalate and it doesn’t end well.

The Production.  It’s that ‘thing’ some artists have that grabs even the uninitiated into an art form and you are just aware of and in wonder at the talent. And so we have Sondra Radvanovsky as Anna Bolena. She is majestic, regal, dramatic and a voice that soars. All the heartache and upheaval in Anna’s life comes out in that performance. She pierces your heart. There is nothing artificial in her acting, it comes naturally. She zeroes in on the person to whom she’s singing and she pins him /her there with a gaze. It rivets the audience as well. The rest of the cast all sing beautifully.

But then there is the production with its lumbering direction (Stephen Lawless), overbearing set (Benoit Dugardyn) and chintzy lighting (Reinhard Traub).

I come from the theatre world where the whole production and play at least give the impression of trying to be on the same page, where word and action fit (to paraphrase Hamlet, “Fit the action to the word and the word to the action.” So I was mystified to hear Anna Bolena sing about how Percy could see how furrowed her brow is in worry and Stephen Lawless just seems to ignore this in his direction. Here is Anna over on stage right and Percy waaaaay over there stage left, not looking at her at all. She’s looking at him. He’s looking elsewhere. This from a man supposedly still in love with her. What’s wrong with this picture?  So often Lawless stages characters so far away from each other it’s hard to imagine there is any relationship between them at all.

At one point Smeton, a musician secretly in love with Anna finds himself trapped in her empty bedroom. He hears people coming and must hide. He can’t exit through the door in which he entered. He frantically looks for a hidden door and finds it and exits. I’m thinking it is some kind of closet. But later he is discovered by guards and is brought back into the room via that ‘closet’ door along with at least 10 other courtiers. Very odd staging, that, not to say an odd set design.

The whole set is enclosed in movable walls that look to be 35 feet high if not higher. Above those are two tiers where people stand looking down on the proceedings. Lawless is careful in placing either one person or a whole host of courtiers always looking down on the goings on. This gives the sense that Anna and anyone else in that court is always under scrutiny. Nice touch.

But every time the location changes those wobbly, unwieldy walls have to be moved and it takes so long and the configuration is so cumbersome it’s hard to tell where we are. When the walls are arranged upstage in a curve I assume the action is outside. How else to explain the delicate dusting of snow falling from the flies. And of course Anne would have been beheaded outside where cleanup would not be that much of a concern.

Bright lighting only seems to be centre stage. So often Anna or Enrico look as if they are brightly lit because they are standing centre and everyone else is not. As one point Anna is directed to lurch in despair upstage along one wall, in shadow. Mystifying.

Ingeborg Bernerth’s costumes are rich and elegant and a welcome relief in all this gloom.

Comment. I can appreciate that opera is a different art form from theatre—the dialogue is all sung. Staging might look clumsy. But there is nothing preventing a clever, inventive director to blur the lines between opera and theatre and make the latter as encompassing as the former; where characters play to each other and not to the air. Where characters engage with each other at least to show there is a viable relationship. I’ve seen opera as lively as that. I expected better of Anna Bolena.  As for Sondra Radvanovsky—wonderful.

Produced by the Canadian Opera Company.

Opened: April 28, 2018.

Closes: May 26, 2018.

Running Time: 3 hours, 25 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.