Joan Sutherlan in powerful concert operaIt was billed as a Joan Sutherland special, but there was good-singing all-round in the concert performance of Donizetti'a Anna Bolena -- the spiced-up story of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII's second wife (and the first to be beheaded) -- given last Sunday night in the Wang Center.
Sutherland grew in stature as the evening developed: she ended the third scene of Act I movingly, then blossomed for a consistently-powerful Act II. Anna's prayer, Dio, che mi vede in core had considerable depth and focused attention on the character's plight. Her singing in the second scene of the Act, backed by gentle heart-beat pizzicato, was psychologically revealing, Anna's growing introspection displayed by increasingly concentrated singing.
Sutherland showed particular strength in drawing ensemble together, as in the trio fin dall'eta piu tenera. Her own singing here was haunting, but her expressive power was augmented by her ability to cement ensemble scenes, to form bonds with other characters without costumes, scenery or staging.
In Donizetti's opera, Anna has an ex-fianc'e, Lord Richard Percy, and Jerry Hadley's portrayal of the role -- which included some of the strongest singing of the evening -- was particularly vivid. Hadley's lyrical voice brought us a dark ruby-red blooded Da quel di, lei perduta, in which Percy describes the bitterness of his exile -- having lost Anna's love, fine orchestral accompaniment adding further color.
Hadley's dramatic singing made him a compelling partner to Sutherland; in tandem, their performance was magnetic.
Judith Forst's voice is a tightly-controlled instrument. It was put to particularly strong use in Ah! pensate che rivolti, where Giovanna -- Jane Seymour -- pleads for clemency for Anna. Her singing was clean and firm, but also well-colored and full-blooded: Her stage presence demanded attention.
Richard Bonynge -- Sutherland's husband -- drew an inspired performance from the orchestra, which painted the scenery as effectively as any actual props might have done. The orchestra provided a suspenseful introduction to the mournful choral number Chi puo vederla, creating a poignant ambience for Anna's ladies-in-waiting to reflect on Anna's unfortunate condition. Woodwind was used to especial effect to convey Anna's tragedy in the final scene. Against such a supportive backdrop, Sutherland's Al dolce guidama castel natio was particularly touching.