United Kingdom Longborugh Festival Opera 2019  – Donizetti, Anna Bolena: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of Longborough Festival Opera / Jeremy Silver (conductor). Longborough, Gloucestershire, 25. 6. 2019. (CP)
Director – Jenny Miller
Designer – Nate Gibson
Lighting designer – Ace McCarron
Movement director – Michael Spenceley
Assistant director – Lysanne van Overbeek
Anna Bolena, Queen of England – Linda Richardson
Henry, King of England – Lukas Jakobski
Richard – Jung Soo Yun
Jane – Caryl Hughes
Smeton – Carolyn Dobbin
Hervey – Alex Haigh
Rochefort – Matthew Buswell
A very grey day in the Cotswolds heralded the story of despair and unhappiness that is Anna Bolena as Henry’s second wife’s life ends with a beheading. That grey day ended with a vast mist descending on the Longborough Festival Opera site as the many opera followers drove off on full beam seeking their way out of the gloom. However, yet again the LFO’s team has combined to produce a sell-out year; the season opener, Wagner’s Das Rheingold receiving favourable reviews, and now one of Donizetti’s least performed operas Anna Bolena filled the auditorium.
For many, the return of director, Jenny Miller and conductor Jeremy Silver, is the signal for potential success; Miller is as creative as ever with of one of Longborough’s now infamous uncomplicated sets – thanks to designer, Nate Gibson. Silver’s ability to persuade the scratch band to produce scintillating wind instrument playing, with piccolos and oboes excelling, is commendable. Gibson’s wrought iron decorative geometrically carved backdrop is a reminder of the Tudor ceilings within the Windsor Castle apartments, so carefully refurbished following the disastrous 1992 fire. This backdrop is used for eavesdropping on the Henry plotting, the plans to recall Richard (Jung Soo Yun) from exile and Anna’s page, Smeton (Carolyn Dobbin), whose removal of the locket is Anna’s ultimate undoing and seals her fate.
The early moments of Act I indicate the acknowledged unhappiness in the royal relationship between Henry and Anna. Anna asks her courtiers, ‘why so melancholy?’; Henry accuses Anna of ‘loving me for my throne’ and with that he manhandles his new love, the petite Jane (Caryl Hughes), Anna’s lady-in-waiting, whisking her away to his separate apartment. Courtiers threatened by the Henry dominance resort to hiding their uncertainties behind masks, surrounding one of their many – now headed as a doe – in an act of protection. As ever, Jenny Miller brings the occasional eccentricity to the stage in what proves to be, at times, a thoroughly gripping and dramatic production.
Towering above most is the powerful figure of Lukas Jakobski (Henry), strutting around the stage with his powerful, authoritative voice and the air of a man about to commit a tyrannical act, a defiant man eager for change. Linda Richardson is an elegant Anna in emerald silk, has a strong, powerful voice; she sings with clarity with an engaging vigour, an unfeeling manner when necessary, warmth when addressing Smeton. She reflected the intensity of the drama as she becomes imprisoned by her courtiers before being removed to the Tower. Caryl Hughes (Jane) – costumed in equally elegant red silk – makes an excellent Longborough debut portraying the disloyalty of her role with finesse.
Jane’s Act II confrontation with Anna is the event to give both women the opportunity to vent their strongly held views. Jane is in love with Henry but claims to remain loyal to Anna; Anna is in love but loathes Henry and shows pity towards Jane. Together they produce a thrilling scene defining their complex situations.
Jung Soo Yun, another making his Longborough debut gives a compelling performance as Richard, Jane’s forlorn suitor, with his strong, stable tenor voice. Making a welcome return to Longborough, Matthew Buswell, performing as Rochefort, Anne’s brother, gives a reminder of his potential for greater things with his attractive bass-baritone voice and capability to act. Carolyn Dobbin as Smeton, exudes the impishness needed in this trouser role.
Lighting designer, Ace McCarron’s use of spotlighting in Act I is effective, and he uses deft lighting throughout to differentiate scenes and confirm the state of ‘death of innocence’. The contemporary costumes are extremely pleasing on the eye, a most appropriate eclectic selection of clothing supporting Longborough’s second success in a busy season with Don Giovanni and La Calisto yet to come.
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