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The critics are raving: ANNA BOLENA “burns with white-hot intensity”

With the new production of  Anna Bolena, Lyric is now "five-for-five" in its 2014-15 season, says the Chicago Sun-Times. Donizetti's bel canto gem is onstage until January 16; the critics are praising the potent, dramatic story that offers plenty for audiences to cheer from vocal fireworks to the compelling staging.

With the new production of Anna Bolena, Lyric is now "five for five" in its 2014-15 season, says the Chicago Sun-Times. Donizetti's bel canto gem is onstage until January 16, and the critics are praising the potent, dramatic story that offers plenty for audiences to cheer from vocal fireworks to the compelling staging.

"Highly recommended" - Chicago Sun-Times

"Anna Bolena frequently burns with white hot intensity" - Chicago Sun-Times 

 "It's a thrilling new production featuring a strong, young, well-integrated all-American cast and a focused and effective pit debut by conductor Patrick Summers." - Chicago Sun-Times

The "Lyric audience [was] on its feet and cheering for five minutes after the final curtain…" - Chicago Sun-Times

"Director Kevin Newbury and set designer Neil Patel have a take on this tragic history opera that makes most of it as engrossing as a contemporary thriller, though it was written in 1830." - Chicago Reader

"Bel canto done right" - KDHX

"Stunning production" … "a major triumph" - Chicago Critic

"If you have not witnessed a bel canto opera - then this is the one to experience." - Chicago Critic

A Sumptuous Musical Feast with a Star-Studded Cast

Sondra Radvanovsky triumphs as Anne Boleyn

"It's all there - coloratura runs, the rapid dynamic and emotional changes required by the score and a confident but giving performance…" - Chicago Sun-Times

"Her high notes blazing, the Berwyn-born soprano tore into the long and diabolically difficult title role…" - Chicago Tribune

"Expertly sung and superbly acted, her Anna moves easily through the wide dynamic and emotional range of this role. Like Callas, Ms. Radvanovsky is not afraid to sacrifice a little technical purity here and there if it enhances the drama." - KDHX

"The visceral quality of Radvanovsky's vocally compelling and dramatically affecting performance was just the ticket to send sparks flying in the coloratura stratosphere." - Chicago Tribune

"Radvanovsky deployed her big, dark, vibrant sound, with its precise coloratura and close attention to text, to potent effect." - Chicago Tribune

Radvanovsky provided "exciting high notes and theatrical frisson" - Chicago Classical Review

Sondra Radvanovsky and Jamie Barton face off as Boleyn and rival Jane Seymour

"The early Act Two duet - or duel? - … is one of those moments you wondered if you'd ever see again: two singers so matched in age and style turning up the heat, feeding off of each other and the orchestra, and yet doing so at the service of the story and not for a mere divas' cat fight." - Chicago Sun-Times

"Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is creamy-voiced and appealing as the sorry-but-seduced Jane Seymour; her tell-all duet with Radvanovsky in the opening scene of the second act is a musical and dramatic highlight." - Chicago Reader

"With two sensational roles for women, you almost want to call 'Anna Bolena' 'Anne and Jane,' with Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, singing epic duets with second wife Anne Boleyn. That's not a knock against the wonderful work of soprano Sondra Radvanovsky, who tears into the massive role of Anna with gusto (her mad scenes at the end are frightening). Rather, it's to acknowledge that Jamie Barton as Jane, a tricky role to act in Donizetti's version of the story, also delivers a big, passionate performance." - Crain's Chicago Business

"The role of the guilt-ridden Jane Seymour offered Barton a splendid opportunity to display her plush, voluminous voice and dulcet bel canto phrasing." - Chicago Tribune

Bryan Hymel makes an impressive Lyric debut

Bryan Hymel "delivered the goods" as Percy - Chicago Sun-Times

"Hymel's voice stood revealed as a tenor of impressively heroic strength, sweetness and style, easily inhabiting the high tessitura." - Chicago Tribune

"In his company debut, Hymel displayed a gleaming tenor, throwing off clarion high C's and bringing firm dramatic conviction to his confrontation with Henry." - Chicago Classical Review

John Relyea smolders as Henry VIII

"Bass John Relyea is smoldering, brutal and appropriately full of himself as a dashing Henry, showing off power in many dimensions." - Chicago Sun-Times

"Bass John Relyea used his truly menacing, black-toned basso to dominate his scenes as the cruel and arrogant Henry." - Chicago Tribune

"Vocally Relyea was first class, his bass richer and even more commanding than previously.." - Chicago Classical Review

The Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus shine

Debuting conductor Patrick Summers "led a pliant and stylish account of the score." - Chicago Tribune

"The chorus, prepared by Michael Black, added yet another success to its many accomplishments in this extremely busy opera season." - Chicago Tribune

History Comes Alive 

"Designers Neil Patel (sets and properties) and Jessica Jahn (costumes) have created work both sumptuous and undistracting, giving context for the story while allowing it to unfold before us in human terms first" - Chicago Sun-Times

"The courtly intrigues and suspicions that send Anne to the scaffold are symbolized by a large, ever-present chorus of eavesdroppers and spies, arrayed beneath a huge, coffered ceiling. …The design scheme mixes period realism and modern abstraction, while Jahn's costumes adhere to Tudor fashion: dark leather doublets and jerkins, bejeweled crowns, flared sleeves, an ermine mantle for the king." - Chicago Tribune

"The visuals are a knock out. Patel's sleek sets make use of color and a few period elements to suggest an entire environment or dynamic: a coffered ceiling turns the bare stage into a palace, for example, and the royal throne, on a revolving pedestal, is backed by the royal bed." - Chicago Reader

"The set, with massive pieces that descend out of the golden ceiling, adds its own dimension to the drama, suggesting how these characters can easily be crushed under the power of the king (that idea is cashed in memorably in the opera's final moments)." - Crain's Chicago Business

"Neil Patel's set contributes substantially to that with its imposing Tudor ceiling from which walls and set pieces descend for the scene changes. The illusion of massive weight is convincing and reminds us of how these characters are, in some ways, imprisoned in the splendor of their surroundings." - KDHX

Photo credits

  • Anna Bolena at Lyric Opera of Chicago production photos credit Todd Rosenberg and Robert Kusel

 

An Insider's Guide to ANNA BOLENA

Donizetti's bel canto masterpiece, Anna Bolena, is on stage at Lyric from December 6 through January 16. Learn more about the passion, intrigue, and betrayal at the court of Henry VIII with this inside look at the history, aesthetic, and cast of his new-to-Chicago production.

Donizetti's bel canto masterpiece, Anna Bolena, is on stage at Lyric from December 6 through January 16. Go inside the intrigue and betrayal at the court of Henry VIII with this inside look at the history, aesthetic, and cast of his new-to-Chicago production.

Two rivals battle for the ultimate prize: Queen of England. Fiery and passionate, Anne Boleyn (Sondra Radvanovsky) seduced Henry VIII (John Relyea) and started a revolution, but now she's been replaced-in his heart and his bed-by the demure Jane Seymour (Jamie Barton). As her enemies scheme, Anne confronts memories of her first love, Percy (Bryan Hymel in his Lyric debut), and bravely faces her inevitable fall, while Jane finds herself overcome by guilt. See superstars Sondra Radvanovsky and Jamie Barton face off in this thrilling showcase of their vocal and dramatic prowess.

This production is conducted by Patrick Summers and directed by Kevin Newbury, who are both making their Lyric debuts. 

Click here to read the full plot synopsis, director's note, and more
in the complete Anna Bolena program book.

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team 

Reimagining Anne Boleyn
What really goes on in the lives of the rich and famous? We're just dying to know. The royal family is certainly no exception. We track the comings and goings of Prince William and Kate Middleton with as much interest and care as we would our dear friends. But there's another royal family that everyone knows and craves the scoop on—King Henry VIII, with his bad behavior and his many wives. READ MORE

A Pair of Dynamic Debuts: Kevin Newbury and Patrick Summers bring Anna Bolena to life
Director Kevin Newbury and conductor Patrick Summers take you inside their preparations for Donizetti's work. Though both Newbury and Summers are officially debuting with this production, neither is a stranger to each other—or to Chicago. Learn more about their Lyric connections in this article from the Fall 2014 issue of Lyric Opera News.  READ MORE

 

From Bolena to Bel Canto: The eclectic tastes of Kevin Newbury
Debuting stage director Kevin Newbury is an in-demand director in both opera and theater, and his first feature film, Monsura is Waiting, has been garnering critical acclaim on the film festival circuit. He recently sat down for a brief Q&A about his many passions, including world premieres, directing bel canto gems like Anna Bolena, and Chicago architecture! READ MORE

 



Vocal Feast: Anna Bolena 
Bel canto! It means literally "beautiful singing," and we think of it whenever Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti come to mind. When you experience Anna Bolena, what exactly will you be hearing? Fabulously beautiful sounds, of course, but in this opera, a beautiful voice is just the beginning. READ MORE 

Backstage Look: Prepping costumes for Anna Bolena
Lyric's costume director Maureen Reilly discusses what she and her team do every summer to help make sure the beautiful period costumes for Bolena are ready for the December opening night. READ MORE

 

Anna Bolena Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

Inside the BEL CANTO working sessions

The week of July 7, the creative team for Lyric's world premiere opera Bel Canto  (opening in 2015!), gathered in Chicago for several days of intensive work on the project. Read on to get a glimpse of this work-in-progress.

The week of July 7, the creative team for Lyric's world premiere opera Bel Canto (opening in December 2015!), gathered in Chicago for several days of intensive work on the project. Composer Jimmy López, librettist Nilo Cruz, and director Kevin Newbury were on hand to listen to the completed portions of the score in a version for two pianos and vocals, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

This was the first time that any members of the team had heard the music sung. Almost the entire Ryan Opera Center ensemble participated in these working sessions, taking on not only the main roles but doubling the minor characters plus chorus parts as well.

The days of work culminated with a reading of four scenes (two from Act One and two from Act Two) that have been completed. The session was opened up to a small group of journalists and sponsors and was followed by a Q&A with the creative team and Lyric's general Director Anthony Freud.

Here are just a few of the fascinating details that were revealed:

  • A polyglot opera! The opera will be performed in seven languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Japanese, and Quechua—one of the indigenous languages of Peru, where the opera is set. Sir Andrew Davis noted that this could be the first opera to use Quechua!
  • Reinvention, not adaptation. Nilo Cruz talked about how he's not simply adapting the novel, but making something completely different. Anthony Freud added that the aim for the project is to make Bel Canto stand on its own terms as an opera, rather than just reproduce the book as a play set to music. 
  • Ann Patchett's positive reaction. Anthony Freud shared that author Ann Patchett, who was initially afraid to read the libretto when it was sent to her, has declared it even more beautiful than her original novel.
  • Bel Canto is the new black? Director Kevin Newbury says that the story is really about creating a community within captivity, and how he is excited to show the small private moments that can happen in the middle of a very public space. He drew a comparison to the hit TV show Orange is the New Black, which gives characters' background within the larger story of life in prison.
  • It will be crowdedon stage, at least! During the real-life captivity, all of the hostages were made to stay in the same space, which means that all cast members will be on stage together for virtually the entire opera.

Learn more about Bel Canto from the creative team:

 

Photo credits:

  • Bel Canto libretto (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • The Bel Canto creative team: librettist Nilo Cruz, composer Jimmy López, and director Kevin Newbury (credit Andrew Cioffi / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Ryan Opera Center members are conducted by Sir Andrew Davis during the workshop (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago). For the workshop, Ryan Opera Center members Hlengiwe Mkhwanazi, J’nai Bridges, Jonathan Johnson, Bradley Smoak, Jesse Donner, and Anthony Clark Evans sang principal roles. Laura Wilde, Julie Anne Miller, John Irvin, Will Liverman, and Richard Ollarsaba sang multiple roles. Ensemble member Maureen Zoltek and Ryan Opera Center Music Director Craig Terry were pianists. 
  • Anthony Freud and Sir Andrew Davis during the discussion (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
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