If you haven’t been to an Opera before, you really should go along to Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn). It is the first time this production has been staged professionally in Australia and Fra Professor Richard Divall has done great justice in the way he has prepared this “new edition”; along with the English translation, which makes this opera much easier to follow.
Operas tend to be a full-on experience to the senses: visually exciting, with engaging music along performed by extremely well-trained voices. Anna Bolena ticks all the boxes.
You can take it all in, or as some of the audiences were doing, you can just close your eyes, and listen to the 44 piece Melbourne Opera Orchestra being conducted by Greg Hocking, and the interweaving tapestry that is portrayed by the vocalists, along with the 39 voice chorus, all of which provides a full and rich experience. If you’re like me, you may decide that it’s better to employ everything that this opera has to offer, both visually and musically. If so, you won’t be disappointed.
The costumes, are absolutely stunning, in colour, material and design. This is further expanded within the use of costume changes between the two leading ladies, Elena Xanthoudakis (Anna Bolena) and Sally Wilson (Jane Seymour). The splendour and colour changes, reversing between Bolena and Seymour as their fortunes change, is a very clever piece of directing by Suzanne Chaundy.
Eddie Muliaumaseali’I (Henry VIII) is an imposing figure and very regal, not only by his stage presence, and rich bass voice, but also with the number of classic costumes which unquestionably places him in the Tudor era. This is further reinforced by Christina Logan-Bell’s use of the Tudor rose image, along with the very smart and yet simple set
There were a number of highlights: the casting of Xanthoudakis, Wilson and Muliaumaseali’I made a very strong trio, not only vocally, but also in terms of their dramatic expressions. All three of them performed strongly and believably.
Comic relief was presented by Dimity Shepherd (Mark Smeaton) who portrayed a fresh, lighthearted, yet naive trouser roll of Smeaton. Although a small roll, it is very pivotal to the demise of Bolena, hence requires skill in its direction and acting. Shepherd nails it.
The exchange between Bolena and Seymour, the realization of what is happening, the betrayal, seeking forgiveness and the acceptance was so emotionally charged, and very well directed and performed.
Although the stage area is somewhat limited in size, there could have been a bit more attention taken to the lighting of characters such as Phillip Calcagno (Lord Rochefort – George Bolena, Bolena’s brother) and Boyd Owen (Richard Percy, Earl of Northumberland, Bolena’s former lover). I found it a bit distracting when both of them where performing at the foot of the stage, partly shadowed, while at the sometime, there was a glare coming from Henry VIII costume.
If you have never been to an opera before, this is a great introduction, while at the same time, any opera fans will be fully delighted by the high standard of this performance.
Anna Bolena is running a very short session with a final performance on 12th November at Monash University’s Robert Blackwood Hall.