The Women in Black

Anna Bolena

Welsh National Opera, Birmingham Hippodrome


LET’S face it; we know historically that an offer of marriage from Henry VIII was not, in hindsight, the best route to a long and happy life. If you were in any doubt about that fact then the WNO will convince you with this production of Anna Bolena as visually it has all the charm of a Victorian funeral parlour.

So with this the first of The Tudors operas, a black curtain goes up on a black set where everyone’s favourite colour is . . . you guessed it, black. Designer Madeline Boyd’s intention may have been to reflect the mood of the `Black sins’ of Anne Boleyn and then inject some isolated colour at poignant moments in the production.

Those instances do indeed stand out like fireworks in the gloom, but set against this dark subject and this musically complex opera it’s not a comfortable experience and on every level you have to work at it.

Although the setting is a shadowy affair it does enable lighting designer Matthew Haskins to carve out some highly graphic silhouettes of this very accomplished cast both in the solo and ensemble pieces.

In addition is a large stage turntable which added some movement to what is a very static production, but other than that it was lacking in any other creative touches that supported the plot. Thankfully then we had some impressive singing.


Whilst Donizetti's Anna Bolena follows a loose outline of historical fact, the three hours are filled with some dubious suggestions as to the motivations of those around her and their individual emotional mood towards her final demise.

Soprano Linda Richardson delivered an impassioned performance as Anne and was fortunate to be afforded a glorious Red gown wrap that was almost overbearing in intensity in the blackness as she proudly heads off to lose her head in the closing moments. 

Katharine Goeldner mastered the mostly imagined part of Jane Seymour who realising her relationship to the king has effectively sealed Anne’s fate and falls into guilty sorrow for her actions.

King Henry is reduced to an arch villain sung by Alastair Miles, who delivers his actions as a relentless succession of conspiracies to be rid him of his wife.

It was left to Robert McPherson as Lord Percy to inject any light musical colour to the evening as his voice cut through the gloom of the black rooms and dungeons like a beacon.

Andrew Greenwood conducted with vigour and as the score in parts is nothing more than single chordal punctuations around vocal melodies, felt in total unison with his company.

If you like your opera with heavy gothic overtones then you won’t be disappointed and contrary to it being autumn, black apparently is this season’s colour.

Jeff Grant 


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