There’s no time period quite like The Tudors – it’s dangerous, exciting and sexy. Often found at the heart of literature, TV and films, it’s rare to find someone that doesn’t find the guts and gore of this thrilling time in British History absolutely fascinating.
So I was delighted to hear that the Welsh National Opera would be bringing a trilogy of shows, retelling some of the most ominous tales of the Tudor times, on a tour of Britain.
The marketing surrounding the new operas, created by the talented Donizetti, was fantastic. It is clear the WNO is trying to bring opera to a younger audience – and rightly so! The stigma attached to opera needs to be eradicated. If you’re a fan of drama, suspense and incredible music, then opera is surely the perfect thing for you. The stories are easy to follow, and grab you from the opening note. The music takes hold of your body and transports you to another world. The words are like syrup gliding through your subconscious. It is a powerful art form, and an experience like no other.
On Friday, I went to see Anna Bolena at the Wales Millennium Centre – one third of the epic trilogy. I’d been so excited – the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII is a story like no other. A fiery female caught in the web of a mad man… I had seriously high expectations for the opera adaptation.
The Opera – always a fabulous chance to dress up!
And of course, it was fantastic. The show focused on Anne’s final days in the corrupt court of Henry VIII, and the lead up to her untimely death. Each voice was simply sublime, from the main stars right through to the ladies in waiting. Striking solos and divine duets, classic chorus numbers and an overwhelming orchestra – Anna Bolena had it all.
Each character was played to perfection. Anne, unsurprisingly, was the star of the show. With her head held high, she seemed (on the surface) strong and confident. But her turbulent world encapsulated her, and her distress and pain were clear as the story darkened. Your heart called out to her as her life went from bad to worse. Her fate handed to her on a plate, you were shown the cruel injustice of the monarchy, and reminded of just how twisted the Tudor times really were.
Photography by Robert Workman.
Henry was as sly and sinister as you could imagine. Skulking around the stage planting his evil seeds with every step, Miles played the villain fantastically. Terrifying and without a soul, he was like an animal devouring anything in his path. Once again, your heart called out to not only Anne, but Jane Seymour.
Photography by Robert Workman.
“The other woman” – you would expect to feel a similar hatred for Jane. Henry’s new “toy”, was she not the reason for his determined need to dispose of poor Anne? But Donizetti portrayed Jane in such a beautiful and touching way, you could not help but feel pity for her. Consumed by guilt, Jane conveyed a deep longing to escape. However, we all know in the kingdom of Henry VIII, there was no escape. Once he had dug his devilish claws into you, you were his for the taking.
The story – full of twists, turns and thrills – came to an explosive end as Anne awaited her death. Without a doubt, this was the highlight for me. In these final scenes, Anne sunk into a pit of madness. Farnocchia was unforgettable in these moments. Her talent and ability to connect with the audience was second to none. In a touching scene, Anne imagined she was back at her wedding day, with a child and then thrown back to her girlhood romance with Lord Percy. Disheveled and with an insane twinkle in her eye, you knew she had reached the edge of sanity as she tried to forget her fate. Curled up in a child’s cot, the scene was almost uncomfortable to watch. To see such a strong woman brought back to a child-like state at the hands of this horrendous creature was unbearable.
Photography by Robert Workman
Then, almost as suddenly as she had diminished, the powerful Anne returned. The moment she accepted her fate, she regained her inspiring and iconic nature. Robed by her ladies in waiting in a deep red coat (the only splash of colour on a dark grey set – I believe symbolic of the blood that was to be shed), she turned to the audience with the power and confidence she was renowned for. Her swan song reminded the audience that here was a woman never to be forgotten – she was Anne Boleyn. Queen, icon and one of the most influential females of British History.