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By Joel Kasow

NEW YORK, 15 MARCH 2012 — Business continues as usual at the Metropolitan Opera, with two new productions being shown on PBS (check local listings) after their HD screenings in movie theaters throughout the world. Donizetti’s Anna Bolena had already been seen early in 2011 when the same production with the same protagonist (from Vienna) was televised throughout Europe. Anna Netrebko in the title role sings now with greater assurance but there are still moments when she is dramatically absent, a fatal flaw in such a work.

Ekaterina Gubanova gets through the music allotted to Jane Seymour, but she is surely more of a Verdi mezzo than the light-voiced soprano the composer had in mind, but that seems to be a concept that eludes most casting directors today. Ildar Abdrazakov is too congenial as Henry VIII, lacking the inner strength that should define his character. Stephen Costello gets through the fiendish music of Percy, but with little of the requisite elegance.

The only member of the cast who offers a totally satisfying portrayal is Tamara Mumford as Smeton, but she suffers — as does the entire cast — from the drastic use of the scissors so that few arias are left intact. Most distressing is the uninspired production of David McVicar — is he doing too much these days, spreading himself too thin as he seems content to move around his forces, occasionally imposing action upon the players, but then it would be difficult to be inspired by Robert Jones’s serviceable sets and Jenny Tiramani’s sober costumes. Marco Armiliato’s conducting is supportive of the singers, but reveals little individuality or identity with the composer.

Mariusz Kwiecien (center) in the title role of Mozart's Don Giovanni.
Photo: Courtesy of Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

Don Giovanni is another story, for Fabio Luisi’s lithe reading of the score captures the Mozartean essence while leaving the singers room to be expressive. Michael Grandage’s serviceable production in Christopher Oram’s unit set and costumes suffers from hyper-activity, such as Elvira comforting Anna during "Il mio Tesoro" or the multitudes looking on during "Batti, batti". Marius Kwecien in the title role is sufficiently imposing on all fronts to be convincing, as is Luca Pisaroni’s Leoporello. Barbara Frittoli’s Elvira avoids the hysteria that some singers bring to the role, while convincing us of her love of the reprobate. Marina Rebekah sings an excellent Anna, but she hasn’t much sense of the stage, while Ramon Vargas sings the hell out of Ottavio. Mojca Erdman is nothing special as Zerlina, lacking the vocal warmth that should permeate her two arias. But it is truly Luisi’s evening, justifying the management’s faith in him.

Headline image: Anna Netrebko as Anne Boleyn and Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII in Donizetti's Anna Bolena 

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque. He has been opera critic for Opera (U.K.) and Opera News (U.S.A) for thirty years and was elected to the International Music Critics Association (UNESCO) in 1996. Long before the existence of "blogs", Mr. Kasow kept an Opera Diary for Culturekiosque. Opera fans can access the archive of his intensely personal, ongoing commentary on the opera world here.   

For collectors of opera and vocal recordings, please click here to access Operanet's archive of CD and DVD reviews

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