|Enrico VIII and his second queen, Anna Bolena.|
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.