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Donizetti, Anna Bolena:  Soloists, Orquestra Simfònica and Coro del Gran Teatre del Liceu. Conductor: Andreij Yurkevich. Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona. 30.1.2011. (JMI)

New Production Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona

Direction: Rabel Duran

Sets: Rabel Lladó

Costumes: Lluc Castells

Lighting: Albert Faura


Anna Bolena: Edita Gruberova

Percy: José Bros

Giovanna Seymour: Elina Garanca

Enrico VIII: Carlo Colombara

Smeton: Sonia Prina

Rochefort: Simón Orfila

Hervey: Jon Plazaola

Edita Gruberova (Anna) and Elina Garanca (Giovanna Seymour)
Picture © A.Bofill


The current run of performances of Anna Bolena at Barcelona’s Liceu is essentially a tribute to veteran soprano Edita Gruberova, who is been as faithful to this house as Liceu’s audience to her, idolised by this public for many years.


This opera by Donizetti is closely linked to the history of Liceu, since it was one of the first operas performed in this theatre at its inauguration in 1847. (It had also been performed elsewhere in Barcelona before that and a few years earlier Spanish audiences where able to catch it in Madrid.) But it had not been put on here for a while and with the last showing of Anna Bolena at the Liceu taking place some 18 years ago. Then, as now, Mrs. Gruberova took on the rôle of the unfortunate English Queen.

The evolution of this opera is a curious one. It was the first great success of Donizetti, who was catapulted to fame after the premiere in Milan in 1830. Anna Bolena became an opera that all the important theatres at the time wanted to perform. By the end of 19th century the opera lost the public’s interest and disappeared almost completely until Maria Callas—with Gianandrea Gavazzeni at the helm—gave birth to the so-called "Donizetti Renaissance" of the 1950s. Still, it has never reached the popularity it once had, and still less in current times, with belcanto going downhill.

Liceu offered a new production by Majorcan Rafel Durán who the sort of timeless work that is neither really outstanding nor ever disturbing the action. Rafel Lladó sets is made up of two levels, the higher for the outside scenes and the path to the scaffold, the lower for interior scenes where most of the action takes place. The place is rigged with security cameras at the control of the king. The singer-actors are not well directed—particularly noticeable with a very static choir. Among the extras are a few with raven heads, recalling the legend that the Tower of London and the British monarchy will continue as long as these birds live there.

Ukrainian conductor Andreij Yurkevich helped and supported the singers, which is always good in belcanto operas. He’s always at the service of the singers on stage, getting a decent performance from the orchestra and excellence from the Liceu’s choir.

I must confess that I have a deep admiration for Gruberova, one the very few great singers of the old generation still in active and giving singing lessons on stage. She forms a miracle trio together with Placido Domingo and Leo Nucci. I have always found her an unrivalled Zerbinetta, Elvira, or Adele, but her interpretation of Donizetti’s Queens never moved me as they should. I understand that this opinion is not shared by many opera lovers. Particularly not among the audience at the Liceu.

Edita Gruberova has been—and still is—a light soprano... light-lyric now, if you wish. That’s not exactly what Donizetti’s Queens require. Rather they demand the so-called dramatic sopranos of agility. Anna Bolena is a very complex character who has to transmit emotions through singing, which is not easy for a light soprano. I will always remember my discovery of this work on the recording of Maria Callas at La Scala. When I listened for the first time the end of the first act I played it over and over again to hear the famous phrase "Giudici ad Anna", so full of strength, anger, and disbelief from a Queen who knows she has been betrayed by her consort . Something similar happened also at the end of the Opera in "Coppia iniqua", more an expression of deep and dramatic feelings from the Queen climbing to the scaffold than purely florid moment. A good number of years later I had a similar feeling when listening to the recording of Leila Gencer, another great Bolena, who has always been able to move me deeply. On stage, I have only had a similar experience with Denia Mazzola (Gavazzeni’s widow), though that was not really due to her vocal qualities.

In neither of the above mentioned fragments did I find Edita Gruberova convincing, though her interpretation of "Al dolce guidami" was absolutely outstanding. l consider her as an admirable soprano, although her voice is past her prime, with more than a few shouted top note in the first act.

After having cancelled at the premiere, José Bros was Riccardo Percy and I found him in a better vocal shape than I expected. It was perhaps the most convincing performance of his in this role that I’ve seen. His tenor is perfectly suited to the demands of the character and he is always been a consummate belcanto singer. Today the voice has widened and he is an optimal Percy, with slight signs of fatigue at the top.

Giovanna Seymour was luxuriously cast with Latvian mezzo soprano Elina Garanca. In this rôle she is simply incomparable. She has a magnificent voice—wide and homogeneous along the whole tessitura—combined with an extraordinary line of singing, remarkable acting skill as an actress, and all the glamour of a Hollywood star. Never has the infidelity of Henry VIII seemed more forgivable.

Carlo Colombara fine middle range if rather whitish top made for a good Enrico... a character I think Donizetti simply forgot an aria for. Sonia Prina who sang Smeton had had better evenings in the recent past.

The Liceu was completely sold out, with a huge number of Mrs. Gruberova worshippers out in droves. But by the time of the final bows it was clear that Elina Garanca came close to having stolen the show from the grand dame. Not quite, hough, because the Gruberovati did not just cheer, they shouted from the top of their lungs and even displayed banners with her picture. 14 minutes long. If Gruberova had not cleared out, eventually, there might have been a few fanatics who would have been happy to spend all night paying tribute to one of the most important sopranos of the last 40 years.

José Mª Irurzun


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