Palau de Les Arts 2022-23 Review: Anna Bolena

Eleonora Buratto Delivers Stunning Debut in Respectful & Insightful Production

By Mauricio Villa
(Credit:Miguel Lorenzo & Mikel Ponce)

The Palau de Les Arts, in coproduction with Dutch National Opera, is staging the Donizetti “Tudor Trilogy.” “Anna Bolena,” the first title of the trilogy, opened the 2022-23 season in Valencia on Oct. 1, 2022.

The production, which had already premiered in Amsterdam early this year, was directed by Jetske Mijnssen. All the action takes place in the big hall of a palace full of doors that changes between scenes or acts. Mijnssen uses dolls that double the main characters of the opera, and a blond child which could either represents Anna’s daughter or a projection of Anna herself. The use of ballet in the opening chorus and scenes was wise and made the action lively; however, I found that the ballet in the last scene of the opera was ineffective. In Anna’s final scene, the festivities of the wedding between Enrico and Giovana are heard off-stage, making a tremendous impact on the mental state of Anna who is going to be executed. I consider that setting the wedding on stage with the ballet takes the focus away from the title character, creating a  pantomime that grates against the dramatic impact of this moment.

That said, It was a strong theatrical effect, with a possible psychoanalytical reading, to put all the men of the chorus in judges’ costumes after Anna sang “Giudici, ad Anna.” The costumes by Klaus Bruns were beautiful. Inspired by period costumes but with modern fabrics, their ochre palette of colors helped create an oppressive atmosphere.

It was a correct staging in general, with a few strong moments, but it was respectful towards the libretto and the music, something rarely seen today.

A Wondrous Debut

The Italian soprano Eleonora Buratto debuted in the title role. She possesses a lyric round voice with a velvety quality, completely even from low to high, and with an astonishing projection in her high register. She sang her cavatina “Come, inocente, giovane…non v’ha sguardo” showing an impeccable vocal line with expressive legato singing and an absence of portamenti. Her coloratura in the cabaletta was clean and fluid and she emitted the several high Cs of the piece brightly and effortlessly, interpolating an extra high C during the bridge before the repetition of the cabaletta.

She imprinted, from the very beginning, a strong feeling of sorrow and abandonment, as if she had already accepted her tragic end. Her round, dark voice was present during the quintet and her incredible voice projection made her final high C strong and thunderous over her colleagues and forte orchestra.

Bolena is a long role that requires vocal stamina and acting skills. Buratto’s performance kept growing in intensity during her duet with Percy, the final concertante, the duet with Giovanna in Act two, and during her scene with Enrico and Percy.

But it is in the final mad scene where the sopranos who sing this role are put to the test. Buratto’s interpretation of the famous mad scene “Piangete voi…. Ah dolce guidami…coppia iniqua” was impressive. Her voice was fresh after a long night of singing and she switched easily from strong menacing high Cs like in ”in fiorato” to mezza voce and pianissimi while singing her lamenting aria, where she gave dramatic sense to every triplet and ornamentation.

The cabaletta was aggressive and desperate and her ascension to B flats and high Cs during the difficult line “pietà, favor, pietà” was clean, strong, and dramatic. She managed to perform a believable and moving mad scene with her beautiful singing (which is what Bel canto means), avoiding any kind of mannerism or clichés. Anna Bolena is definitively a role that suits Buratto’s voice perfectly at this point in her career. She was received with a strong standing ovation at the curtain call.

Solid Rivals & Lovers

Mezzo-soprano Silvia Tro Santafé sang the role of Giovanna Seymour. She has a dark voice with modest volume and a marked vibrato that creates some dubious intonation at times. She has to sing a short aria ”Ella di me solecita” right at the beginning of Act one; it’s a challenging passage, featuring a high B flat in the cadenza. She was determined and dramatic in her duet with Enrico in Act one, but her intense vibrato made some notes sound flat and strident.

Her voice sounded more secure and her sound more stable during her duet with Anna in the second act, and even though the tessitura is lower than in her precedent duet (except in the very last section where she sings the high line above the soprano), she ended the piece with a strong sustained high C alongside Buratto. Her voice melted perfectly with Buratto’s lyrical instrument and her interpretation was strong and emotional. The highlight of her performance was her scene and aria “Per questa fiamma indomita” for her expressive legato singing and for her clean coloratura during the cabaletta “Ah! Pensate che rivolti” (which she sang only once), although the two B naturals sounded unstable and flat.

The role of Percy was portrayed by Spanish tenor Ismael Jordi. Donizetti wrote this role for the 19th century opera star tenor Rubini who was famous for his extreme high notes, writing the score in keys that have since been transposed down. In fact, only Rubini’s original keys appeared in the recently published critical edition, while Ricordi published the accepted lower keys. This difference in keys makes the tessitura of the role extremely hard, because even if the highest note is only a high C (and the score has plenty of them) the writing is mostly central and baritonal in the first aria “Da quell di.”

Jordi’s voice has evolved from a leggero tenor to a lyrical voice. His middle and low register has grown and darkened, his volume is modest, but he maintains easy high notes. Therefore, Jordi navigated easily through the expansive lines of his entrance aria, which keeps the voice mostly inside the stave, all while emitting two thrilling high Cs during the cabaletta “Ah! Cosi nel di redinti;” he held the ending high C until the last bar of the piece. He sang a seamless trill on a G during the cabaletta as well.

The original key of the subsequent quintet puts the voice in a higher range navigating constantly between high A flat and B flat. Jordi sang the high tessitura effortlessly and sang every dynamic, delivering exquisite diminuendo. He ended the piece with an interpolated high C alongside the soprano. Jordi kept his fluid legato vocal line during his duet with Anna, maintaining his beautiful fraseo, his attention to dynamics and diminuendo, and perfect direct attacks on a high B during “Io voglio renderti la vita.”

His second aria “Vivi tu” was sung with extreme delicacy and sorrow. He made breathtaking diminuendi all along the aria on the several high A naturals and delivered a strong attack on the high C on the difficult line “nè timore e nè desir;” he added an extra high C to finish the cabaletta.

Italian bass-baritone Alex Exposito portrayed the role of Enrico VIII. This is an ungrateful role as it is essential to the plot of the opera, but features no solos, delegating the role’s interventions to duos and concertantes. Exposito’s vocalita suits Donizzeti’s writing which demands a high tessitura (moving constantly between high D and E), fast scales, coloratura, and legato singing. His interpretation of the larghetto section of his first act duet with Giovanna Seymour was full of deep emotion.

Nadezhda Karyazina performed the role of Smeton. She showed her powerful low register as well as her vocal flexibility in singing coloratura during her opening short cavatina “Deh! Non voler costringere,” which places a spotlight on the low register, descending constantly to low A flats and Gs as well as fast scales that shift two octaves between low and high G. Karyazina’s middle register was beautifully exposed in her second aria “Un bacio, un bacio ancora,” which keeps the voice mostly inside the stave.

Bel-Canto specialist conductor Maurizio Benini offered a lively reading of the score. He began with a frenzy powerful overture and was much in favor of intensity rather than delicacy, opting for fast tempi, strong crescendos, and heroic rhythms in concertantes. He presented an almost complete version of the score (with the exception of Percy and Giovanna cabalettas ) with all the repetitions, full choruses, and concertantes. The orchestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and the Chorus de la Generalitat Valenciana sounded splendid and precise.


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