By Donizetti. Opera Australia. Joan Sutherland Theatre, Sydney Opera House. July 2 – 26, 2019.
Reviewed : 2 July 2019
Gaetano Donizetti’s operatic interpretation of Henry VIII’s scheming ‘removal’ of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, in order to marry his third queen, Jane Seymour, presents the disreputable English king in a scandalous drama. In the recently renovated Joan Sutherland Theatre, past and present meet in an explosion of digitally enhanced sets, sumptuous costumes and formidable voices.
Tall screens vividly ornamented with different projected designs are smoothly lowered, turned and raised to set the opulent palace scenes. Silver scarabs crawl creepily over some; the letters ‘A’ and ‘H’ (Anne and Henry?) appear on others. As each scene comes to an end, the cast freezes in elaborate tableaux as the stage revolves or the screens slowly transform to the next setting.
Without Donizetti’s music preluding the next scene, these transformations, impressive and beautifully atmospheric as they are, can lose some their initial allure and even become a little predictable in a three-and-a-half-hour production. Nevertheless, the possibilities of virtual sets and digital effects are skilfully displayed in this production, that brings together a sixteenth century misogynist English monarch, a nineteenth century Italian composer and state-of-the-art contemporary staging.
Billed as “the world’s most acclaimed soprano”, the diminutive Ermonela Jaho brings poignantly rich emotion and vulnerability to the role of the rejected Queen Anne. Almost dwarfed by the high screens that surround her, she proves the celebration that follows her work in a performance that takes Donizetti’s arias to greater heights.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes is the powerfully determined and single-minded King Henry, Carmen Topciu his latest conquest, Jane Seymour. Leonardo Cortellazzi is Lord Percy, Anne’s first love called back from exile by the treacherous Henry, Richard Anderson her brother, Lord Rochfort. Anna Dowsley is Anne’s faithful page, tremulously loyal and constant.
With such an acclaimed cast, and an imposingly large chorus, director Davide Livermore presents Donizetti’s musical interpretation of a dutiful wife manipulated by a devious husband and his court, with impressive style and skill.
On Gio Forma’s innovative set with John Rayment’s modernistic lighting highlighting the luxurious fabrics in Mariana Fracasso’s elaborate costumes, this production is an exciting example of contemporary theatricality. Yet the theme and the music, played by the Opera Australian orchestra conducted with panache by Renato Palumbo, are centuries old. Bringing them into the future via burgeoning technology may be the way to attract new and younger audiences to this highly specialised and enduring art form.