Plot: At the heart of Anna Bolena (Julie Unwin) is the cruelty of the Tudor King Henry VIII (Ricardo Simonetti) – having divorced his Catholic wife Catharine of Aragon, and set on the throne his great love Anne Boleyn, he is disappointed; now he desires her lady in waiting, Jane Seymour (Julia Riley). As her thousand days as queen draw to a close, Anne is still fighting – until she meets again the man she loved before Henry.
The revival of this Donizetti masterpiece comes at the same time as the film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl which received mixed reviews, or if you had the chance to see it, the much more interesting The Tudors produced by the BBC last year. But this is the English Touring Opera who also brought us Donizetti’s Mary Queen of Scots in 2005. My first opera experience was also at the Hackney Empire so I had quite a deja vu feeling this evening, and unlike the first time I went to see Tosca, I brought a friend with me this time.
The tragedy of Anne Boleyn is perfect for the opera, so I expected really powerful crescendoes and wonderful, soaring singing. Riccardo Simonetti’s strong baritone really made me hate Henry VIII who was just as wicked and devious trying to find ways to get rid of Anna, whilst tenor Luciano Botelho’s Percy who played Anna’s old flame was dramatic and soul lilting. Act One had great ensemble singing from the main characters but let’s leave the rivalry between Anna and Jane for last as theirs lies the heart and soul of this tragic opera.
Anna was played by Julie Unwin and is the ETO’s main star and in this performance, she sings magnificently as I remembered her in Tosca. Her Anna is hopeful and defiant, and her moment of brief madness was heartrending. But Julia Riley nearly gave her a run for her money as she gave an equally powerful, intelligent and poignant performance of Jane. Their duet in Act Two is one of the shows highlights, and I just had goosebumps remembering it now. The minimalist and adaptable set worked well with the beautiful period costumes, the music was soothing with Michael Lloyd conducting.
Anna Bolena: 4/5
Anna Bolena will be performed in repertoire with Susannah and Don Giovanni as the ETO tours around the UK. For the ETO’s tour diary, please visit the ETO website here: