Donizetti’s Anna Bolegna staged by WNO

After all the television series and films on the Tudors, and with Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell books fresh in our memory, how should Donizetti’s operas on the same theme be staged? With plenty of pageant and historically appropriate costumes and designs? No. Alessandro Talevi’s production of Anna Bolena for the Welsh National Opera got it completely right.

Hardly any set, exclusively black costumes (except at the end when, in brilliant contrast, the heroine wears blood-red to go to her death), and much use of lighting effects which pick out the main protagonists against the predominantly gloomy background. All of this reinforced the dramatic and music themes of power and tyranny and was aesthetically very pleasing. And there were some particularly inventive moments. The page Smeaton expresses his love for Ann while addressing a headless mannequin on which her dress is hung. At the beginning of the last act, the female chorus attempts to calm Ann while she awaits the end, and she circulates around them holding the future Queen Elizabeth in her arms.

All of the singers were engaged completely in their roles and met the considerable demands made of them vocally. Linda Richardson in the title role was particularly impressive. Like a good old pro, Alastair Miles, who contributed his resonant bass to a sharply-edged portrayal of Henry VIII, brushed off the boos which, as villain of the piece, he received at the end. My brother said that it was the best evening he had ever spent at the opera. Very understandable.