English Touring Opera at Snape

Anna Bolena, English Touring Opera, Snape Maltings, 10th May

Paul Simon

Anna Bolena, English Touring Opera, Snape Maltings, May 10

It is often said, usually by jaded critics, that the opposite of bel canto is can belto. The implication being that when a singer fails to deliver the necessary smoothness and rich articulation of the former, they normally end up hurling volleys of noise at the audience instead.

This remarkable performance of a reasonably well-known Donizetti opera, certainly included some exquisite examples of bel canto from the impressive Julie Unwin as Anna. But her role as the anguished Queen also demands an outsized intensity, forcefulness and dramatic oomph - a sort of deliberate can belto, if you will - and this was also jaw droppingly well delivered by the soprano.

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Her agitation and rising fear during her mini-mad scene towards the end of the work encapsulated the desperate plight of a wronged and doomed soul.

Unwin was surrounded by a host of accomplished performers This resulted in a string of almost flawless duets, including that between Anna and her childhood sweetheart, Percy (Luciano Botelho in impetuous form), between Anna and her guilt-stricken replacement Anne Seymour (Julia Riley) and then that of Percy and Jonathan Pugsley as Anna's brother, the latter preferring to join his friend at the point of the executioner's blade to that of a pardon. Baritone Riccardo Simonetti as Henry VIII was a brooding presence, mixing lust and guile, throughout.

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The tightly packed emotions of the opera were magnified almost to bursting point by both the driven conducting of Michael Lloyd and director James Conway's skilful staging. The clever use of a darkened backdrop and a skeletal set that incorporated sliding doors and walk ways from which the principals were constantly spied upon by shadowy courtiers, emphasised the claustrophobic atmosphere of the unfolding - and tragic- intrigue.

Paul Simon

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