Sydney-based travel, film and music writer, www.jasminecrittenden.net
A dreamlike take on Donizetti's 16th opera
Ermonela Jaho as Anna Boleyn, Anna Dowsley as Mark Smeaton, Carmen Topciu as Jane Seymour and the Opera Australia chorus. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
Henry VIII, who ruled England from 1509 until 1547, wasn't just famous for having six wives. He was also famous for ordering the beheading of two of them. The first, Anne Boleyn, is the subject of an opera by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, which premiered in 1830 at Teatro Carcano, Milano. It's now showing at Sydney Opera House, under the direction of Davide Livermore.
Ermonela Jaho as Anna Bolena. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
Setting the scene is a dozen towering LED screens, each 12 metres high. During the overture, black-and-white photographs of London display the city's mix of contemporary and centuries-old architecture, while girls dance whimsically around a single rose. Anna Bolena's plot might be based on 16th century events, but this production's aesthetic is more surreal than time-specific, in the hands of Italian design collective Giò Forma.
Teddy Tahu Rhodes as King Henry VIII. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
Settings – from the royal court to the Queen's bedroom – are suggested through texture, moody lighting (by John Rayment) and moving images, including beetles, birds and butterflies. Mariana Fracasso's costumes follow suit, paying homage to Tudor fashion, but flirting with punk and rock.
Ermonela Jaho as Anna Boleyn, Anna Dowsley as Mark Smeaton, Carmen Topciu as Jane Seymour and the Opera Australia Chorus. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
Crucial to the opera's success is an outstanding lead and Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho is just that in the titular role. Her powerful and extraordinarily agile, yet fragile, interpretation inspires a standing ovation. Meanwhile, Romanian mezzo soprano Carmen Topciu, who plays Anna's lady-in-waiting – and thief of her husband's heart – delivers a rich, commanding foil. New Zealand-born baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes handles Henry VIII with characteristic charisma and depth, and Australian mezzo soprano Anna Dowsley delights as Mark Smeaton, unrequited admirer of the Queen.
Ermonela Jaho as Anna Boleyn and Leonardo Cortellazzi as Lord Percy. Image credit: Prudence Upton.
Livermore's Anna Bolena, while grounded in history, transforms its drama, characters and music into a timeless, dreamlike setting, where passion, power, jealousy and madness rule supreme.