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Audience gets a surprise at Met Opera's 'Anna Bolena'

October 19, 2011 | 10:06 am

Anna Bolena
While Anna Netrebko might be the opera world's fast-rising "it" girl of the moment, unexpected drama came elsewhere during Tuesday night's staging of the Metropolitan Opera's season-starting production of "Anna Bolena."

After a prolonged 45-minute intermission, the curtain at the Metropolitan Opera House didn't rise, and a company functionary, microphone in hand, appeared and said he had an announcement. The sight of this man prompted uneasy murmurings in the audience -- this was Netrebko's last performance in the title role, and despite a chilly greeting from critics, Donizetti's 1830 opera, receiving its first-ever staging at the Met, had been a hot ticket, with some seats through the "variable pricing" format reaching a reported $350 for this performance.

The unlikely news: not one, but two principals were dropping out of the performance at intermission due to colds they had been fighting through the first act. The murmurings ratcheted up to a groan.

Then, good news, and collective relief: Netrebko was unscathed.

Instead, principals Ekaterina Gubanova and Stephen Costello were gone; in their places, a company regular and a 26-year-old first timer.

Up came the curtain and out came mezzo Katharine Goeldner. She replaced Gubanova in the role of a conflicted Jane Seymour, Henry the VIII's reluctant next wife in Donizetti's telling. The second act's first scene gives the character a duet with Netrebko's fiery Anne Boleyn. Goeldner nailed her role as a penitent supplicant and sang confidently and well in their harmonies. (Goeldner's only miscue came when she tried to the leave the stage through what turned out not to be a wing and had to scurry back around a side curtain to get off.)

Taylor Stayton made his company debut in place of Costello in the role of Lord Percy, exiled by Henry for being Boleyn's real love. A graduate of Ohio State, and with only a few roles in secondary companies so far, the tenor looked the part and usually sounded it, establishing ringing tones in the mid range and showing some wise decision-making late in an extended scene by capping his upper range.

Both substitutes were received warmly by the audience.

Meantime, Netrebko, who was in fine voice throughout the evening, showcasing lustrous phrasings and gorgeous control in the opera-ending "mad scene," seemed animated by the new faces in the second act. She received thunderous ovations after the final curtain, cementing her status as opera's soprano on the rise.

A Metropolitan opera spokesperson said Wednesday that the dual departure, while not unprecedented in Met history, was certainly unusual.


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-- Christopher Smith, reporting from New York City

Photo: Anna Netrebko as Anne Boleyn. Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera