Longborough Anna Bolena review

BIRDS IN A GILDED CAGE

ANNA BOLENA
Longborough Festival Opera ****

"Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived" runs the old mnemonic for Henry VII's six wives. Anne Boleyn is number two on the list, so it's a safe guess that Donizetti's Anna Bolena is not going to end well. The success of the opera depends upon how much suspense a director can generate while getting there.

By that measure, Jenny Miller's new production for Longborough Festival Opera scores handsomely. The atmosphere is shadowy, and Nate Gibson's set is dominated by a fretwork screen whose swirls and curves echo a Tudor ceiling: a seductively beautiful cage. The characters wear elegant contemporary evening dress - far too impressed with themselves to realise that they're trapped - and Miller deftly helps the audience stay one step ahead of them.

Lukas Jakobski's strapping (vocally as well as physically) Henry toys with his human prey, and at the end of the first scene, physically carries the petite Jane Seymour (Caryl Hughes) offstage: a big bully with his latest human toy. But it says Anna Bolena on the tin, and Linda Richardson's Anne all but walked away with the show. As the doomed queen's arrogance turned to disbelief, defiance and finally delusion, Richardson's voice shaded almost by the phrase from fragility to heroic strength.

The orchestra under Jeremy Silver found colours to match; with the piccolo highlighting the unfolding horror in fluorescent marker. The band initially sounded reluctant to snap into the Italianate style (to be fair, they've just come straight out of Anthony Negus's tremendous Rheingold), but Silver knows how to generate the authentic adrenalin rush of a Donizetti cabaletta and by the end of Act One everything was fizzing. If a couple of Miller's visual metaphors didn't quite come into focus, the closing scene was genuinely chilling: no small feat when you've known since the overture that the heroine is destined for the chop

Richard Bratby

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