Angela Meade's Anna
It's weird though, the things that can contribute to a performance. There was the substitution of an ailing Ekaterina Gubanova with Katharine Goeldner. Goeldner's voice is not as large and rich as Gubanova's. But it sounds edgy, with a fast vibrato, that made a nice contrast with Meade's voice. Also, Goeldner is a slim, good-looking woman (she's sung Carmen before) who made a natural, believable romantic rival for Anna Bolena.
Angela Meade (picture above) is a very large woman. She would have been considered large and unglamorous in any era of opera (see the old reviews of singers -- they were full of un-PC comments about weight and appearance). There are the singers who can get away with a less than ideal appearance, and the singers who can't. The minute I heard Angela Meade open her mouth last night it was apparent she fell into the first category, although her appearance will probably prevent her from super-stardom. Her voice is beautiful. It's as large and warm as Netrebko's, but with a slightly harder edge that suits this kind of music. Her diction is clearer, and she's more comfortable with the rapid ascending and descending scales of this music. Lovely sense of line and legato, with some beautiful floated notes. The only worrisome thing is that her voice tends to thin on top. She insists on singing some high options that might have been better left untouched, since they came out as thin screams. Unfortunately, the ending of "Coppia iniqua" was one of those moments where she went for a high note that wasn't quite there. Also, everyone told me that Meade had a great trill, but I was disappointed in her trills in both "Al dolce guidami" and "Coppia iniqua." Netrebko's trill is problematic and comes and goes, but Meade's trill sounds like a weak little Caballe flutter.
Here's an interesting side-by-side comparison of "Coppia iniqua":
To these ears, both sopranos have trouble with the ascending trills. Meade's high notes have a tendency to fly wild and, while Netrebko has more control over her top and doesn't take the E-flat option. Meade's voice however is sharper, edgier, and flies through the music, while Netrebko's darker, more luxuriant timbre can make the music sound sluggish.
It's unfortunate that Meade's appearance probably prevents a stronger stage presence, because I thought that if I were to look at only the actual acting, Meade has a stronger understanding of the role than Netrebko. Netrebko was very queenly, but Meade was more of what I imagine the real Anne to have been like -- jittery, neurotic, temperamental. She moves with a lot of energy onstage, often running and pacing back and forth as Anna's situation becomes more desperate. Meade also has a better instinctual understanding of how to inject the drama into bel canto music. The key to Netrebko's success I think is her essentially placid, fun-loving persona. She's always been the pretty, down-to-earth diva-next-door who just happens to have a great voice. High tragedy doesn't come naturally to her, though. That's why I think her Anna Bolena was a beautiful failure. Meade's Anna Bolena is vocally a better fit.
The other singers pretty much confirmed my impressions of them the first time around. I was sitting in the balcony, and Costello's voice sounded more audible tonight, but that bleaty, forced, tight sound is still there, as is the complete inability to sing "Vivi tu." (He ducked out of the most of the cabaletta, if that's even possible.) He also still looks shy and mortified on the big Met stage. Tamara Mumford remains one to watch -- she has a really mellifluous mezzo, and made the smallish role of Smeaton one of the most memorable of the evening. Ildar Abdrazakov was a properly hateful, menacing Henry, so much so that I heard a smattering of boos during the curtain calls. Marco Armiliato was a much stronger conductor tonight than the first night I heard him. He actually had some sense of rhythm and timing.
The auditorium was fairly crowded for a second-cast performance. Meade got a huge ovation at the end of the evening.