Anna Bolena, English Touring Opera
Susannah, English Touring Opera
Don Giovanni, English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire, London

A spurned bride, a sexually harassed girl and 1003 former lovers join opera's roll call of beleaguered females

Only one of the three operas in English Touring Opera's Spring Season bears a male name as its title. But just as Don Giovanni is driven by the carnal caprice of its anti-hero, Anna Bolena and Susannah are dominated by the desires of Henry VIII and Olin Blitch respectively. Henry (Riccardo Simonetti) is a coldly charismatic presence in Donizetti's exquisitely scored drama. Weary of his second wife and besotted by Jane Seymour (Julia Riley), his decision to frame Anne (Julie Unwin) as an adultress is swift and remorseless.

Remorse is a female emotion in this opera, which centres on the delicately calibrated relationship between Anne and Jane. Powerfully sung by Riley and Unwin, and beautifully supported by the orchestra under Michael Lloyd, their Act II confrontation is the highlight of an insecure production.

Designed by Soutra Gilmour, with sliding tapestried panels on a steel frame, James Conway's staging succeeds in illustrating the paranoia and claustrophobia of Henry's court. (A silent Mary Tudor glides along the galleries, watching Anne's humiliation and nursing the hated baby Elizabeth.)

But there is little distinction between formal and naturalistic movement, and only Simonetti and Riley act at the same time as they sing. Unwin is often too busy pacing herself through this marathon role to convey more than weary fortitude, making this political drama curiously domestic in tone.

Written during the fearful years of McCarthyism, Carlisle Floyd's Susannah – a Tennessee-set reworking of the story of Susannah and the Elders – lacks both the feverish horror of The Crucible and the carnival weirdness of The Night of the Hunter. Although Floyd was a Southerner, the score smacks of faux-Americana: the optimistic open fifths of Appalachian Spring (written by a boy-chick from Brooklyn), and the lonely beauty of the New World Symphony (as described by a Bohemian master who had yet to see the Prairies). The most memorable melody is, oddly, a square-dance variation on Bach's E major Partita for Violin, the heroine's "Ain't it a pretty night" is transatlantic verismo, the pine-scented orchestration a boondocks response to the affluent idyll of Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915.

Decked with wooden slats, hung with an American Gothic pitchfork and dressed with Shaker benches, Gilmour's steel-framed set is persuasively reconfigured into the type of farmhouse, barn and revivalist chapel you might find in the type of village you wouldn't want your car to break down in. All that's missing is a wall-eyed boy with a banjo. Plump and pretty as a ripe peach, Donna Bateman's bare-shouldered, sweet-tempered Susannah is the perfect object of suspicion for this community of pinched, skinny, pious term-agants (Sandra Porter, Renée Salewski, Cheryl Enever, Niamh Kelly); some of them sporting black eyes, most of them pregnant.

Conway neatly underlines their jealousy and the sly lust of the Church Elders (Anthony Cleverton, Mark Cunningham, Stephen Anthony Brown, Jonathan Pugsley). But the production lacks focus until the arrival of Blitch (Andrew Slater), the preacher who "sure hates sin", and the only character whose words are 100 per cent discernible through the Tennessee twang and orchestra-heavy balance. Thanks to Slater's subtlety, the hysteria of the prayer meetings and Blitch's guilty seduction of Susannah have an impact that the closing image of our now-hardened, sluttish heroine lacks. Still, Floyd's concise, direct drama seems scarcely to merit the performance history it has enjoyed in the country of its creation.

Strongest of the three productions is Jonathan Munby's Don Giovanni. Here the set is clad in Moorish blue and pricked with the geometric designs of Islamic art, while the deference demanded by the 18th-century aristocracy is translated into the reluctant complicity of those living under the Franco dictatorship, making the Don (Roland Wood) a more violent, less sensual character.

I was not wholly convinced by the analogue, but the reluctance of Masetto (Adrian Powter) to raise his arm in a fascist salute at the close of Act I adds fibre to one of Mozart's least interesting characters.

Wood's Don remains strangely aloof: a joyless libertine who is revealed as a devout sinner in the opening and closing tableaux. Yet Act I, in particular, achieves a spiralling momentum that is mirrored in conductor Michael Rosewell's swift, sharp beat and clear orchestral textures.

Jonathan Gunthorpe plays Leporello as a soulless mercenary, Slater's Commendatore terrifies, while Julia Sporsen's Donna Anna seems, for once, to be more occupied with grief and justice than sex or the avoidance of sex. Ilona Domnich is a strikingly assured Zerlina, audible even in the low tessitura of the quintets, and though Eyjolfur Eyjolfsson strains to lend Don Ottavio machismo and Laura Parfitt's wide vibrato ill suits the baroque agitations of Elivira's arias, both are fine ensemble players.

'Anna Bolena'/ 'Susannah'/ 'Don Giovanni', Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham (01242 572573) from 25 March, then touring

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

    Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
    Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Pop-up hotels filling a niche

    Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
    Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

    Feather dust-up

    A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    Boris Johnson's war on diesel

    11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
    5 best waterproof cameras

    Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

    Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
    Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

    Louis van Gaal interview

    Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz