You know, If you'd told me I'd get my first opportunity to see Anna Bolena in a little theater with maybe twelve rows of seats in the East Village I'd have told you to pull the other one, but that's how it went down. I've listened to Bolena on recording for half an age and have been dying to see it. I s'pose you could call me Bo-curious. But you don't have to.
These tiny productions, like this and the Poppea at Poisson Rouge (which shared cast member Cherry Duke, interesting onstage in both) are not about note perfection, but often provide a kind of musico-theatrical satisfaction unavailable in a huge house. See it's actually more stirring when someone leaves the stage to be beheaded ten feet from you than when the same thing happens a hundred yards away. This is true. And I guess it's only in New York that a tiny company would put on Bolena instead of Barber of Seville, right?
So listen. I don't find myself inclined to review small company stuff the same way as stuff on a grillion dollar budget. Going detail by detail you might find things that are less than polished, and it isn't the point. There were weaker and stronger voices here, though I can't help but throw some verbiage in the direction of Jill Dewsnup, the bright voiced lyric whose star shone brightly enough for a larger house. (This isn't about volume--who can tell in a theater the size of a Dallas garage? She's just very good, and made much of the wonderful final scene.)
But meanwhile, the experience as a whole was utterly enjoyable. Particularly in ensembles, individual weaknesses seemed to cancel out, individual strengths to build on one another, and music usually heard from a balcony box to envelope one in the taut crescendi Donizetti, in his best work, manages to make stirring beyond the music's straightfoward materials.
I think this was opera put on with great affection, as if you and a bunch of your friends all decided to fix up the barn and put on a Tudor Queen or two, only somehow you magically became really good musicians, which presumably you mostly aren't. The artistic director notes (appropriately, in the Artistic Director's Note): "...we've tried not to worry too much about the historians and the purists. Instead we're just trying to create good sung-story-telling, being as true as possible to the style and tradition, and creating something that audeinces can appreciate." They have succeeded in this.
Oh, you know, I'm also going to throw a little extra praise to Matthew Anchel, our Enrico, who if my program math is right, has the vocal means of someone further along in his career.
For the hell of it, I will mention that I found myself wondering a little, as long as they were going with a spare approach scenically, if it might not have made sense to do that street clothes thing* that they do at BAM sometimes, see how it frees people up physically, though the costumes were made with evident care. The "Director's Note", to my amusement, contains a dig at the big R, the aesthetic we have all come to call Regie, so maybe I'm just being contrary.
Later in the year, it looks like they're putting on Konigskinder and, really, how often do you get a chance to see that? Put it on the calendar!
*ok I'm sure nobody wears what they'd wear to run to the bodega for cat litter and Little Debbies