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A rich 'Anna Bolena'

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Entertainment,Barbara Mackay

There's plenty of drama, as well as superb music, in Gaetano Donizetti's "Anna Bolena," currently in a spectacular production at the Kennedy Center's Washington National Opera. And director Stephen Lawless has heightened the drama wherever possible.

The drama begins in Donizetti's choice of historical material. Anne Boleyn was the second wife of England's King Henry VIII, a man who had gotten rid of his previous wife because she did not give him a male heir.

At the beginning of "Anna Bolena," which starts in 1536, Anna (Sondra Radvanovsky) tells her lady-in-waiting, Giovanna Seymour (Sonia Ganassi), that she feels troubled. In fact, Anna is bothered by memories of her first love, Riccardo (Shalva Mukeria), whom she gave up in order to marry the king, Enrico VIII (Oren Gradus). Seymour, meanwhile, is troubled by the fact that Enrico has fallen in love with her.

These four characters play out Enrico's foreordained plan. He invites the exiled Riccardo back to Richmond Castle, to catch him making love to Anna, giving him reason to renounce her.

Onstage
'Anna Bolena'
Where: Opera House, Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW
When: Through October 6, see website for times
Info: Tickets start at $25; 202-467-4600; kennedy-center.org; performed in Italian with English surtitles

Donizetti gave his characters tremendous depth and breadth. When she realizes that Seymour is her rival, Anna at first unleashes her fury, but ultimately forgives Seymour for being Henry's next paramour. In this production, the duet between Anna and Seymour is the most powerful one in the opera.

Radvanovsky is brilliant as Anna, her voice lustrous in the lower registers but capable of sustaining brilliant, clear high notes. She is also a fine actress as her final mad scene demonstrates, where she must weave in and out of sanity. Radvanovsky makes this Anna credible throughout.

Ganassi is equally impressive as Seymour, coquettishly stringing along Enrico, insisting that he marry her, while delighting in the idea of having power herself. The role of Riccardo is performed well by Mukeria, whose impassioned plea of love to Anna is particularly impressive.

Claudia Huckle is excellent as Smeton, the page who loves Anna. Anna's brother, Lord Rochefort, is portrayed powerfully by Kenneth Kellogg. Gradus is the embodiment of control, his commanding bass symbolizing Enrico's absolute authority.

Ingeborg's Bernerth's period costumes are a beautifully constructed collection of period clothes. Benoit Dugardyn's set echoes Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. Nine high, vertical panels are arranged downstage, before a rounded, wooden, double-balcony structure. When Enrico goes hunting, Richmond Park is suggested by a huge, hanging coat-of-arms comprised of bleached deer antlers. Two Irish Wolfhounds, Garryowen and Gael, complete the scene.

There is tremendous range in Donizetti's music in "Anna Bolena," from spirited to mournful. Ably delivered by the Washington National Chorus and Orchestra, conducted by Antonello Allemandi, it is another reason this "Anna Bolena," is a particularly rich, satisfying theatrical experience.

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