Today is the dress rehearsal/preview of Anna Bolena at the Met, and naturally La Cieca has infiltrated the event with a veritable phalanx of spies. After the jump: all your latest Anna Netrebko related news.
4:30: “Although Donizetti is one of my least favorite ‘standard-repertoire’ composers, I enjoyed today’s Anna Bolena at the MET. McVicar’s production is very simple and straightforward—nothing that the Sybil Harrington Trust would object to funding (although this was paid for by Mercedes and Sid Bass), with ravishing costumes against very simple monochromatic sets. Mumford was an astonishingly boyish Smeaton, nicely sung although not as impressive as her Paulina last season. Gubanova was awfully ‘plain Giovanna’ asSeymour, and not particularly suited to this repertoire with a very raw top. Abdrazakov, a striking-looking Enrico, lacked the bottom notes but was incisive and secure throughout the rest of the range—I liked him a lot.
“I’d never heard Costello before and was very impressed by his singing, although the end of his first aria went a bit awry. His stage deportment is quite another matter—I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more awkward and disengaged performance on the Met stage. If he ever made eye contact with anyone on stage, I missed it, and his hang-dog posture and vague expression got really tiresome by the end—and what was with the house slippers for ‘Vivi tu?’
“The eponymous diva of the moment started out sounding uncharacteristically rough—the first aria and cabaletta going for little. After that, she seemed to find her form and character and gave us a highly dignified and impassioned Queen, in opulent voice for the rest of the performance. Her launching of the stretta of the Act 1 was exciting as was her soaring D at the conclusion. I indeed heard the rising series of trills in the final cabaletta—not all of them fully voiced but at least attempted with some speaking more clearly than others—evidently she had worked on this sinceVienna. Other than the long interruption before the final scene due to a stage elevator snafu, the most spontaneous moment was when Netrebko broke character during the huge applause after ‘Al dolce guidami’ to acknowledge the English horn player in the pit.
“Spoiler: This time the McVicar executioner stays clothed.”
3:10: “The Queen is dead! It’s fine, though McVicar has some kitschy ideas. For the final scene, there’s the chorus of women in front of a wall, then the wall goes up (that was the crash we heard earlier), looking almost exactly like the transition into the Tomb Scene of Aida. The executioner is on top of the wall instead of Amneris. The ladies separate, and Anna is kneeling with back to audience, giving the impression she has already been beheaded. There’s an open door with a smoke effect she sings into, she wanders for a while. Then Keith Miller and Costello arrive in various states of undress, Smeton fully dressed but all bloody. Before last pieta, there’s this big fussy business of Anna putting her hair up in a bun, marching upstage to the door, then turning and waiting for the orchestra to drop out before singing a high B-flat. There doesn’t seem to be much sense of musical choices, how to make the most effective points in the music. The chain of trills didn’t work. She sounds fine, but I just don’t think bel canto is her strong suit.”
3:05: “Nebs nailed the mad scene. Once set went up, effective and quite handsome. Set is black white and red all over. Final image is of giant red satiny curtain (covers entire stage) falling as symbolic beheading. Effective and big!”
2:45: “Suggested headline: ‘Old Man Yells at Stagehands to Sabotage Met Opening Night'” [Apparently this is the “Franco Zeffirelli” moment of the production: the prison rises up on the stage elevator, or fails to rise, as the case may be. – LC]
2:25: “Singers pretty damn good and solid all through second act. Set malfunction at beginning of last act. Loud boom, set couldn’t rise. ”
2:20: “Huge crash backstage at the beginning of the mad scene. Work lights came up and the music stopped. 15 minute break announced.”
1:10: “Initial thoughts post act I. Halfway through the act it seemed that this opera was being hijacked by the men of Tudor. The opening scene was a bit disappointing with a Nebs entrance seemingly designed as a star entrance which wasn’t received as such, i.e., no entrance applause, and than an opening scene where she didn’t seem ‘on’.
“This was followed by Jane Seymour’s bedchamber in which Ildar as Henry was unbelievably hot, sexy, sensual and vocally amazing. This was a scene where he made Jonathan Rhys Meyers‘ Henry on Showtime look like a princess. The lovely 80ish year old woman next to me fanned herself during this scene- he controlled the stage and Ekaterina G. while good seemed to melt into the background.
“Next the park scene where Stephen Costello was in great voice and the audience with was him. Nebs returned and from here on, she was the Queen in all respects. Vocally anything tentative an hour ago was gone and you couldnt keep your eyes off her. She ended this scene by planting a big kiss on Ildar (Henry) that was charged to say the least.
“Her next scene with Costello was lacking the sexual chemistry that she had in that one moment with Ildar. They seem to not be melding together yet, and McVicar may want to work on manning up Costello especially with Ildar’s smoking hot king.
“The end of act ensemble was well done (albeit cut) and Nebs ended the act with a strong assured high D center stage that made it clear that even with the strong male competition it was still her show!
“Production-wise, the set is drab and Spartan (McVicar’s Tudors don’t have much in terms of home decor) but the set is movable and let’s the act play nonstop (no interminable set changes here.) The man knows how to keep up pacing and how to move the action on this stage. Costumes are where the money seems to have been spent- luxurious and really good looking from royalty to courtiers.
“One quibble- those two ugly wolfhounds who were paraded around Zimmerman’s Lucia (and even got some press out of it) are back! Do they have a deal that they must be in any new production of a Donizetti opera at the Met? Should we assume we will see them next season in Maria Stuarda and L’elisir?
“Orchestra was ok- overture was treated with too much omm pah pah playing but got better from there.”
12:50: “Sets are somewhat modern (minimal) but traditional (period). Very safe but effective. No props other than candelabras, a few throw pillows and one bed. Dark brown, greys and black seem to be color scheme Moving walls, trees for forest descending from flies. Smooth ‘a vista’ transitions between scenes. Costumes for chorus are pilgrim chic: black and white. Netrebko is singing quite well: smooth, huge voice, though her acting is somewhat stilted. Guberova is belting and quite shrill at times – ‘Slavic edge’ if you will. Costello looks and sounds hot as hell. Mr Borodina is solid but bland, but looks good from dress circle.
Isobel Lenard Tamara Mumford got a mid aria applause in scene before Anna enters. Orchestra sounds together as does chorus.”
12:37: “Anna sounds absolutely great, the voice big and luminous, though her singing does not, I think, have a lot to do with bel canto style. It’s beautiful but not electrifying. The part of Enrico is a bit low for Ildar, but he sounds fine. Stephen Costello is singing very well, not scooping, in tune. The production, well, looks like Anna Bolena: muted color, ornate walls that slide and reveal rooms within rooms. Otherwise it’s mostly people standing around singing; thus far there’s nothing you could call a coup de théâtre.”
12:25: First reports coming in!
8:45: Honey, it hasn’t even started yet. Relax, enjoy your brunch, and check back later.
(Photo: Brigitte Lacombe/Metropolitan Opera)