Three Remarkable Singers Lead the Cast of Anna Bolena

FranceFrance Donizetti, Anna Bolena: Chorus of the Opéra National de Bordeaux, Orchestre National Bordeaux Aquitaine / Paul Daniel (conductor), Grand Théâtre, Bordeaux, 5.11.2018. (JMI)

Anna Bolena © M. Etxeverria
Anna Bolena © M. Etxeverria

Anna Bolena – Marina Rebeka
Percy – Pene Pati
Enrico VIII – Dimitry Ivaschenko
Seymour – Ekaterina Semenchuk
Smeton – Marion Lebègue
Hervey – Kevin Amiel
Rochefort – Guilhem Worms

Direction – Marie-Louise Bischofberger
Sets – Erich Wonder
Costumes – Kaspar Glarner
Lighting – Bertrand Couderc

More than three years have passed since I was last in Bordeaux, and my return had much to do with the announcement of two important singers in the cast of this Anna Bolena, Marina Rebeka and Ekaterina Semenchuk. Both appear frequently in the major opera houses, and one hopes that the arrival of Marc Minkowski as director here will make Bordeaux part of that circle.

Both women gave the kind of performances that one would expect from two great singers. The surprise was a third singer, tenor Pene Pati, who proved to be a wonderful discovery. We will surely hear more from him in the near future.

The staging is by Swiss director Marie-Louise Bischofberger, and it had its premiere here in Bordeaux in May 2014. The production could subsequently be seen in other French cities, such as Toulon and Avignon, and was done at La Scala in March last year. My expectations ran high, but the truth is that they were not justified: it’s a fairly simple production that consists of panels and a curtain at the back, with props used to create an environment. A few timeless elements are added to show that the abuse of power is not limited to Henry VIII’s rule in England; and a girl who is the future Elizabeth I appears several times on stage. Costumes are largely from the time of the drama, and they and the lighting are adequate. The main disappointment was that stage direction was practically nonexistent, particularly when it came to the crowd scenes, although the soloists also seemed left to their fate.

The musical direction was handled by Paul Daniel, the current musical director of the Bordeaux Aquitaine orchestra, and his reading had two distinctive parts. The first act was fairly routine and marked by excessive volume, while the second act went better in every way. Both the orchestra and the chorus gave fine performances.

Leading the cast was soprano Marina Reebeka in her debut as Anna Bolena. As with the music, her performance improved noticeably in Act II. She especially shone in the final scene, a very demanding one for the singer. All in all, it was an impressive debut in the character.

As I mentioned earlier, the big surprise of the night was the performance of tenor Pene Pati in the part of Riccardo Percy. I knew little about him other than the fact that he debuted last year in San Francisco as the Duca di Mantova, and also that he won second prize at the 2015 Operalia. He has an extremely attractive voice, something bigger than that of a pure light tenor, very homogeneous throughout the entire range; he has no problems in the upper area, although he did lose some quality in the very high notes.

Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk was an excellent Giovanna Seymour. Both her voice and her singing were outstanding, and she demonstrated a total mastery of the character, especially in her great aria of Act II.

The weakest part of the quartet was bass Dimitry Ivaschenko in the part of Enrico VIII. His voice was less appealing than a few years ago, and his singing lacked the authority and weight required by this character.

Tenor Kevin Amiel did well in the role of Sir Hervey, while Guilhem Worms as Rochefort and Marion Lebegue as Smeton were less convincing.

José M. Irurzun

Leave a Comment