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on November 4, 2011
All three female principals in this opera are fantastic. Netrebko, Garanca and Kulman own the screen. They deliver a performance that will have you glued to your seat. I agree with some of the reviews I've read on Amazon regarding Ildebrando D'Arcangelo and Francesco Meli not being as strong as the part may demand, and I must say I preferred Ildar Abdrazakov as Henry VIII in the Metropolitan Opera's production this year. Ironically, he sang against Netrebko at the Met and was wonderful. It's really a small quibble. D'Arcangelo and Meli deliver world-class performances and they are wonderful voices against Netrebko and Garanca.

In addition, the Vienna Opera Orchestra will leave you breathless with this performance. The music took on a dimension I haven't heard with other productions of Anna Bolena, so it was like hearing it anew. Evelino Pidò conducted this performance, and I was enthralled at his interpretation. Make sure to play it LOUD!

For my money, if you're an opera lover, this is a not-to-be-missed performance. At $29, you're crazy not to buy it!
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VINE VOICEon November 10, 2011
Well I'll give it five stars! This is a masterful, vivid presentation of a truly great opera; one of the very best of it's genre. Yes, this is Donizetti's first great international success. He would write many more great and not so great works numbering in the 70s but he would not exceed this tight,well crafted, non-stop drama to its forgone ending; a true work of genius. My introduction to this work dates to the late fifties when on radio I heard rebroadcasts of RIAA broadcasts of Callas in the role (with Simionato) from La Scala. I really got to know the work at NYC Opera with Sills and the subsequent recordings of the Donizetti Tudor Queens. If Callas was a tigress (and she was), Sills was affronted majesty, Gruberovna betrayed innocence but with Netrebko we have all three stages of development to the great climax at the end. You can quibble as some reviwers have about her voice type but in the end it's the art that Netrebko puts into the role that counts and this performance on the whole is simply great. I agree that the most satisfying scene is the Bolena/Seymour duet. The ice blond Garanca and the ravenhair Netrebko in a duo made in heaven. The male members do a good job in their roles. Meli's A! cosi neidi ridenti (an exquisite gem of a melody) was lackluster but he became more lyrical later in the opera. D'Arcangelo, not the handsomest face on the roster made a fervent creditable king. The costumes were excellent especially the two ladies gowns that complemented them so beautifully. Evelino Pido kept a tight reign on the entire undertaking and brought forth a truly magnificent performance.
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on September 24, 2011
This opera arrived today and it went into the player as soon as the box was opened. If you are at all "into" bel canto, you must have and experience this performance. From a music standard, from a dramatic standard and from a technical standard, it is a hands down winner! In addition to having experienced this performance, I was able to attend my first ever Met HD simulcast of Anna Bolena on 10/15, featuring Anna Netrebko and an entirely different cast. If that performance gets onto DVD, I will have two splendid renditions of this opera.

But let's address this Anna first, because if you are reading this, it is this disc about which you are curious. First, the disc is qualitatively perfect. the picture is crisp, the colors are vivid and the sound in DTS is still a marvel to me. There is a real sense of "being there"; if you have a good surround system, just disable the surround and then re-engage it. There is a sonic collapse to the front speakers which reverses to a sense of the "house" when the surround is clicked back on.

The conducting of this opera is splendid throughout. I have become real fan of Maestro Pido of late, especially in bel canto operas. You can see from the very opening of the overture how engaged he is in the score, and his work with the singers is impressive. Along with Marco Armiliato ( who conducted the Met performance ) and Antonio Popano, I think we have a cadre of talented and experienced bel canto interpreters on hand for the near future.

So, how do the singers do? With one exception, the performers sing and act at a very high level of excellence.

Netrebko's Anna is a vocal and dramatic tour de force. She is an exceptional performer. I know from reading esteemed reviewers here that many fault Netrebko for taking on such roles as this because of a lack of real coloratura, which is true: Netrebko is not a lyric coloratura soprano. What that means is that she will not be as agile on runs and trills and lacks the extreme upper range of the true coloratura. But roles like Anna are not just about trills and E flats. One reason that Anna Bolena was Donizetti's first breakthrough opera has to as much with dramatic intensity as with vocalism. What Netrebko does here is to bring the character of Anna to life, both musically and dramatically.If I want E flats, I can listen to Sutherland or Sills. The former, whose work I enjoy and who was in life a most gracious person, had little stage presence, while Sills was a formidable stage presence without the depth of Netrebko's voice.

Elina Garanca is also definitive in the role of Joanna. I think that along with Joyce Di Donato she is the best of the current mezzo stars. Elisabeth Kulman ( Smeton ) was new to me, but is also very talented from both the vocal and dramatic perspectives.

As far as the men are concened, Ildebrando D'Archangelo is a compelling Henry VIII. He is not as much of a bully as was the real Henry, but has no trouble negotiating the vocal aspects of the role, and being a bit older than is Ildar Abdrazakov, who sang the role in the Met HD performance, brings more believeability to the part. Francesco Meli ( Percy ) is very good vocally, but not as involved in his character as he might have been. His competiton in the Met version was the hugely talented Stephen Costello, with whom there is simply no comparison. But this did not dimish my enjoyment of and enthusiasm for this performance.

"Extras" are limited to Mme. Garanca outlining the plots of the two acts. I wish there had been more. If the Met version makes it to disc, and I hope that it soon does, I really hope that the interview with the costumer is preserved. The Met Costumes are the real deal with wimples for the ladies and lots of lacing for all. Much historical research went into Met Costumes. In this DGG version, the costumes are not much like Tudor England.

My original review of the opera was based on having access to an "unauthorized" version of this same performance. I posted it when this set was in pre-release to alert bel canto fans of its merit. For reviewer integrity,it appears unedited below. while it was a recording of this exact performance, the DGG set, with better picture and incredible sound quality is a winner! One other thing: Amazon shows the total timing at 140 minutes; the actual performance runs a bit over three hours.

And one last teaser: in the Met simulcast it was announced that stage director David McVicar was planning on staging both Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux at the Met. With Anna Netrebko, one wonders?

ORIGINAL REVIEW:

I have a DVD of this production of 4/7/2011 from a French HD telecast with the same principals singing. There's no DTS, nor is there any indexing and no English subtitles. It was a no brainer for me to pre-order this one, because the performance is simply outstanding. To me that means the singing, acting, staging, orchestra,etc. all work. They do! If you like Bel Canto, this is one to pick up and enjoy. I'll come back to this review in November when I have a chance to view DGG's release, but knowing the quality of their recent discs, I do not expect the rating to drop.
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on December 10, 2011
Aristotle wrote that Tragedy is about a great mind living a reversal of fortune, because an inner drive (not external events) drives him/her towards self-knowledge and death: the performance must offer aesthetic pleasure. Anna Bolena fits the definition as few other operas can ever hope to (except of course when they are transcriptions of Sophocles, Shakespeare, Racine, and a very few others). No weepy drama, no red eyes when Bolena is judicially murdered. Felice Romano is a great poet! I am not a native speaker of Italian, but I do have the privilege of speaking a Latin Language. If you can, learn Italian, the payoff is huge. The plot is reasonably faithful to history, but that is irrelevant: it unveils a totally different, totally convincing vista: the hypothetical face-to-face conflict between Boleyn on her way to the scaffold and Seymour on hers to the throne. In real life it probably never happened; actually the real Jane Seymour was a simple lowly educated country girl. Giovanna Seumour is a Felice Romano character. But if you enjoy a truly mega-conflict of noble minds seek no further! Then there is the music. At his best, Donizetti is one to beat and here he is at his absolute peak best. The Wiener Statsoper, under Maestro Pidò has been lavishly praised by others and I remember no other performance as good as this one. This is a brave new world of sound, the rendering of a complex elegant score, at one time dark and brilliant. Anna Netrebko remarked during a recent interview that Boleyn must have been quite a lady to make a king change the religion of an entire country "simply" to be able to marry her. So, said Netrebko, Bolena must die gloriously as the great Queen she was. Her madness is not lunacy like Lucia's, because it has method in it: she simply wonders back to her happy days, before walking to the scaffold. It is a historical fact that Boleyn died greatly. Anna's Bolena dies tragically and magnificently. I was not privileged to witnes La Callas, but I have her CD. She is definitive, but Anna is another of the wonders of the world. She may not have the coloratura agility but this is really immaterial. Here is Her Majesty, a Tragedy, as great as they come. When she solemnly declares "Cessa! A questa iniqua accusa mia dignità riprendo!" you feel instinctively you should kneel. The voice is velvety dark (when was it anything else?) and how wonderfully does this reflect the great mind experiencing reversal of fortune. Then of course, there is Elina Regina Seymour. Whenever on stage, in farce, comedy or drama, Elina is never less than phenomenal. We have Roberto Alagna's word that she is the most complete Carmen. Her Giovanna Seymour is definitive. Her Majesty is exquisite, her acting brilliant but her timbre is out of this world. The legendary Bolena / Seymour duet, possibly one of the greatest moments in the history of music, is sung and acted but two very different, contrasting voices and actresses: verdict has to be, it has never been done this way before. Bravo to Donizetti and Romano who created this textual and musical marvel, bravissimo for Pidó and his Wienners, but on you knees for Anna and Elina. Elizabeth Kulman is a great Smeton: first time I heard or saw her: she raises it to the higher level, sings and acts beautifully, and completes the ladies' dominant role in this production. The trouble in the plot (and in history) is how to believe that even a young Flemish musician could have been duped to confess what he did. The gentlemen are variable. Archangelo's Enrico is not sufficiently villainous. But everyone must make way for their Majesties. Not having a Callas video is as sad as all the lost Greek tragedies, but this DVD is way ahead of everything else so far! I saw (and loved) the Met production live: Netrebko may have surpassed herself (is that really possible?), Elina and Pidò are head and shoulders higher, the Vienna gentlemen not as good, but I would like to have the Met DVD to compare. Let's hope it can match this Viennese glory. Not an easy order. If you like bel canto you must have this. A gripping story that runs before your eyes before you can take yourself away from it. Three hours in a few minutes.
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on October 2, 2011
Why not 5 stars for such luxuriously beautiful musical performance?
Indeed, the female singers almost scored perfect marks: Netrebko, Garanca and Elisabeth Kulman, all sung with flying colours, especially Kulman and Garanca, who displayed not only exceedingly good vocal timbres, but also tremendous portrayals. Anna Netrebko is better here than in MET's Lucia di Lammermoor, with perhaps the only reservation that hers isn't a true dramatic coloratura, and the last Scene is not as emotionally eruptive as it should be.
Garanca has a mesmerizing deep mezzo soprano with a vibrant top register that would easily put any top soprano to shame, and her duet wit Anna Netrebko is the high point of this performance, undoubtedly. Her coloratura technique is also rock solid. As Smeton,
Kulman's trouser role is also tremendously well sung and acted, almost the most vocally stunning performance of the evening, to many's real surprise. She sang with real limpid beauty, with a firm grasp of the bel canto style.
As for the male roles, I regret to say that they are less outstanding than the ladies.
First of all, I have a strong feeling that Ildebrando D'Arcangelo is severely miscast as Enrico VIII. He is neither regal nor powerful. His bass baritone is lyrical, but lacks the deep punch and squillo required of this role that previously was so well-portrayed by Cesare Siepi and other real basso. Visually, alas, the quasi-gypsie king hardly looked the part he was playing.
As for the 'lover', young tenor Francesco Melli's performance is highly variable. He has the goods, no doubt, but it does appear that he needs more experience and confidence to convince 'himself' that he IS the tenor for the big roles. As it is, his performance smacks tentativeness and though there are no lack of great moments, at many other instances his portrayal is not convincing enough.
Lastly, the sets and costumes are not historically informed, as Tudor women were not allowed to show off their hair as they do in this production.
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on June 28, 2014
The singing and acting of Elina Garanca is, once more, the highlight here as it is everywhere she sings. One of greatest mezzo sopranos?sopranos(??) since Shirley Verrett and Giulietta Simionato, along with Christa Ludwig . Garanca;s phrasing here, her fioritore, tessitura are breathtaking. She is a singer who has worked on her gift and shaped it into an instrument that marks her as a prima donna, the first instrument in the opera.

Her confrontation with Anna Netrebko is wrenching, her reactions tol Enrico Ottavo's claims upon her are memorable, casting one back to 1957 when Simionato and Callas sang this same duet.

The other trail blazer here is the fantastic Ildebrando D'Arcangelo as Henry VIII..no one can touch this performance, except James Morris. But this is better his..caressing, declamatory, destructive tones delivered at Anna Bolena. His demand that Gionanna Sey mour love him and him alone..startling!

It is a fest of bel canto.

Anna Netrebko has sung this part at the Met, after this performance. This one is her best for this role. She is more secure, less uninvolved, stronger high notes, fabulous pianissimo, especially in her rendition of "Al dolce guidami" in the final scene. She had high e flats, but after singing more Russian operas they disappeared, or she just lost them. In any case, she is very good, and anyone who would tackle this role, practically complete, deserves all the hurrahs there are to give. Anna Netrebko needed to learn Italian, as Eilina Garanca did..and she is from Latvia speaking a language that has no affiliations with Italian, and she is letter perfect..as she is in English in her interviews after her electrifying Carmen.

A magnificent cast all through, great choral work,,sets are sparse but the costumes are without equal. The time of Henry VIII was a black period, so the funereal mood s\truck here is appropriate.. Buy this and be transfixed.

Also, buy Garanca's Carmen..a conclusion that had the Met audience stunned, shocked, and silent.
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on December 1, 2015
First we had to deal with the great voices of the past being no more. Then, we had to adjust ourselves to modernized or Eurotrash stagings. And now, amazingly, they have decided to make microscopic, white subtitles on white background the new standard. Of all things which could be so easily corrected :-(

I shall have to write my praises of this production in the same way, unreadable.
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on January 21, 2012
Quick and dirty summary: This is an excellent production, very well conducted and directed with three superb leads. Anna Bolena is one of most dramatic and musically deep Donizetti operas; it requires at least three singers (Anna, Jane Seymour and Enrico (Henry VIII) who can both sing bel canto lyric and virtuostic lines AND portray a real human being. The characters in Anna are much deeper, truer to life than, say, in Lucia. They are, of course, drawn from English history, Anna Bolena and Jane Seymour being the 2nd and 3rd wives of Henry VIII; Henry VIII being the king who broke off from the Roman Catholic Church and founded the Anglican Church, the English State Church and the mother of our Episcopalian Church.
In the twentieth century when Anna returned to the repetoire, it was through the medium of Maria Callas who sang Anna in the pathbreaking La Scala production of 1957. So far no one has come close to matching Callas in this role, her combination of force, fury, plangent lyricism and beautiful line are thus far unique. Anna Netrebko, in this production, comes closer than anyone I have heard. She lacks Callas' plangent lyricism (her lyricism is merely nice), but her fury is something to behold and she always holds the stage when she is on it. I have hopes of seeing her sing Medea and Norma, two other great Callas roles. (Side note: I love opera DVDs but they carry the danger of too many closeups and letting the viewer confuse opera Hollywood movies) The reviewer who whined about Netrebko gaining weight is descriptively correct but unkind. And, it's truly none of his/her business since it doesnt effect her performance.) Truly matched with Netrebko is the Seymour of Elina Garanca. who sings spectacularly, beautifully, and intelligently and is so charismatic on stage that even when she and Netrebko are duetting, it is hard not to watch Garanca. Ildebrando D'Arcangelo very good at Henry VIII, appropriately filling the stage with his fury. All he lacks is a genuinely deep bass voice (his is closer to a bass-baritone and is a bit too light) but he holds his own. The tenor is fair; Elizabeth Kulman as Smeaton is much better than fair. Between the conductor, director, and the three main leads the beauty, passion and drama of this fine opera are powerfully set before us.
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on June 15, 2014
As one who would enjoy seeing anything that features Anna Netrebko I'm not exactly an objective critic but look at the rest of the cast: Elina Garanca's incredibly beautiful and generous mezzo soprano and the multi-talented Ildebrando D'Arcangelo who portrays a very unlikeable Henry VIII very convincingly. Young Francesco Meli sings with a beautiful lyrical tenor voice but he seems a little too young to be Anna Bolena's former beau. Elisabeth Kulman as Seaton is very convincing as Anna's secret admirer and also sings beautifully. I liked the minimalistic but essential staging, leaving much to the imagination and not distracting from the music and the singing. In contrast the costumes were elaborate and period appropriate. I thought the entire cast was well chosen and I'm enjoying this DVD very much- again and again.
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on February 29, 2012
As I write this there are 22 posted reviews which should give readers a good idea of the performances on this DVD. However, many of the comments make a comparison with the recent performances at the Met. I have seen that production both at the Met and in the HD broadcasts (which presumably will be released on DVD soon). There are those who are waiting for the Met performance, but in my opinion, the Vienna production is superior on all counts. Vocally there will not be much to choose from in Netrebko's performances, but Garencia is a marvel, and the rest of the cast holds up very well. Visually, the Met performance prided it self on authenticity, but authenticity does not necessarily translate in to theatricality. The whole visual aspect of the Vienna performance is much more satisfying. From my point of view there is no need to wait. If you are only going to buy one this is it.
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