CAST: Joan Sutherland: Anna Bolena, Judith Forst: Giovanna Seymour, James Morris: Enrico VIII, Gidon Saks: Lord Rochefort, Michael Myers: Lord Percy, Janet Stubbs: Smeaton, Ben Heppner: Hervey
Orchestra and Chorus of the Canadian Opera Company
Richard Bonynge, conductor
Recorded in 1984
This Anna Bolena was recorded in Toronto in 1984 and is especially valuable because it offers a portrait of a great singer in the last years of her career.
Joan Sutherland sings here one of her last Anna Bolena, although it will not be the last ever, since she will record another one, only audio, three years later. A certain obfuscation may be perceived in the voice of La Stupenda, but nonetheless she is still impressive thanks to her legendary breath control, her still sparkling high notes and the easy coloratura. It is certainly true that Sutherland lacks the dramatic intensity of other, no less illustrious colleagues, but her pure and magnificent voice will never make you regret something.
The rest of the cast, especially in some of its elements, has failed to impress me. James Morris, first of all, is awful in the role of Enrico VIII and he becomes even more unpleasant if you lower your eyes from the screen and forget the characteristic pose with his fists on his hips that recalls the most famous portrait of the English king. Morris may be fine to sing Wagner, but bel canto is another thing: as possesses authority in demeanour and sometimes even manages to phrase with elegance, in general he is completely out of place and the “metal” of his voice makes him further annoying.
Judith Forst as Giovanna Seymour has a youthful, light voice, which is the quality that strikes the listener to her stage entrance. To this, you may add another, beautiful impression when it becomes clear that the mezzo-soprano is a graceful singer and does not lack a certain dramatic instinct, especially in her (rightly) celebrated duet with the heroine. In addition to her excellent individual quality, thus, Forst is Sutherland’s worthy companion and their voices blend together with exceptionally naturalness. Of all the singers, Forst is the only one who stands out next to the illustrious primadonna.
Michael Myers as Lord Percy is another sore point and I cannot help but call him unbearable. I find in him the second, out of place character after Enrico VIII, but, differently from him, there is nothing remarkable in this one. The tenor’s singing is tough and ugly, he emphasizes where he should not and obtains unpleasant effects and moreover sings with an intonation of his own and with agilities more than ever approximate.
As for Janet Stubbs as the young Smeaton, she is a substantially correct singer, though she not lacks some moments of weakness.
Richard Bonynge directs with confidence and taste, creating some impressive moments (like the end of the first act), but also other full of delicacy and he do not spare even the dark colours, as in Coppia iniqua, reminding that this is not only the soprano’s triumph, but also a woman who goes to the scaffold. In short, Bonynge is once again a very sensitive and attentive conductor, who does not even forget to support the singers.
As for the theatrical aspect, the set is undoubtedly gorgeous, but more in the clothes than in the set design, as far as I can judge from the not excellent quality of the video.