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Anna Bolena review at Longborough Festival Opera – ‘a fine-looking production’

The cast of Anna Bolena at Longborough Festival. Photo: Matthew Williams-Ellis.
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It is only in the past 60 years or so – since La Scala’s 1957 production featuring Maria Callas in the title-role – that Donizetti’s opera based on the decline of Anne Boleyn and the rise of Jane Seymour has regained attention, but even now opportunities to see Anna Bolena are few.

In this new production for the ambitious Cotswolds country house festival, designer Nate Gibson dresses the courtiers in modern evening-wear, with a stylish range of gowns. The staging is deftly lit by Ace McCarron.

Aside from a large decorative wrought-iron-effect screen there are few stage chattels –a prayer-kneeler is an effective exception in Act II, when Boleyn appeals to God for justice. Perhaps that’s why some of the few additional props can be confusing: notably the courtiers swinging their own lockets as court musician Smeaton returns a stolen locket to Anne’s chambers; and the (to me) mysterious appearances of a golden sphere.

Initially the movement looks a little lumpen. But in Act II, with Anne’s trial and sentencing, Jane’s growing sense of guilt and the self-sacrifice of Richard Percy (Anne’s first love) and her brother Rochefort, the dramatic tension rises. Lukas Jakobski sounds rich but not always focused as Henry and his Italian isn’t always convincing; Jung Soo Yun latterly reveals vocal substance and colour beneath his searing Italianate vibrato. Linda Richardson is laudably secure in the tough title role; and Caryl Hughes is equally impressive, and more dramatically engaging, as Jane Seymour.

Jeremy Silver extracts a good body of sound from the LFO orchestra, entertaining the suggestion of further bel canto excavations.

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A fine-looking production of Donizetti’s opera is hampered by occasional dramatic weak spots