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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats."
Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, since 2007. All written content © 2014 by Paul Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Opera Review: Anna Bolena at the Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble

Enrico VIII and his second queen, Anna Bolena.
Bel canto tradition came to the Theater 80 St. Marks this weekend, when the Dell'Arte Opera Ensemble staged a thoroughly successful "black box" production of Anna Bolena. The first of Donizetti's "English Queens" trilogy, "Bolena" dramatizes the disgrace and execution of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. With its difficult title role and high tenor part, this is a challenging opera to cast. Under the direction of Christopher Fecteau, the Dell'Arte company made a good case for Donizetti's genius. They knocked us dead, and then off with her head.

This opera's success rests on the soon-to-be-headless shoulders of Anna herself. Donizetti's score requires a lyric soprano who can project a majestic presence, sing with dramatic power and navigate the ornamental passages that dominate the finale. Jill Dewsnup was up to this challenge, singing with fierce accuracy and shattering high notes, soaring through the passagio with ease and maintaining a regal presence all the way to the final mad scene.

The role of Percy presents its own challenges and problems for the tenor. The writing is demanding and high, calling for a strenuous high E♭ above the stave. Following the opera's premiere, Donizetti transposed the part down two whole steps, in order to make it performable for most singers. Kirk Dougherty rose to the challenge. Although the results were not always pretty, he went up and grabbed that murderous high note, and finished the aria in style.


Cherry Duke was a picture of inner conflict as Giovanna (Jane) Seymour, Anna's best friend who replaces her on the throne. As Smeton, the smitten court musician who betrays Anna to the king, Blythe Gaissert was convincing in the trouser part and had some lovely music to sing in the first act. Matthew Anchel was a ponderous King Henry--he sounded best in the big Act III trio with Anna and Percy.

Isaac Grier gave a very strong performance as Percy's doomed brother Rochefort--this bass has potential and is a singer to watch for. The entire performance was accompanied by Hellgate Harmonie, a stripped-down ensemble of amateur and freelance musicians. They played a stripped-down version of Donizetti's score as a wind band, the only strings being a double bass.
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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.