Tragedia lirica in 2 atti
Composer: Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848)
Libretto: Felice Romani, after Ippolito Pindemonte’s ‘Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena’ & Alessandro Pepoli’s ‘Anna Bolena’
First performance: Teatro Carcano, Milan, 26 December 1830
PLOT: Anne Boleyn (‘beheaded’) is the second wife of Henry VIII. Henry has turned his attentions to Jane Seymour, and plots to rid himself of his wife. He summons Lord Richard Percy, Anna’s first lover, back from exile. The king surprises the pair and orders their arrest. On the king’s orders, the Council of Peers dissolves Henry and Anne’s marriage and condemns Anna, Percy, her brother Lord Rochefort and her page Smeaton to death.
'Anna Bolena' was Donizetti’s first international success; with it, Donizetti ranked alongside Rossini and Bellini as one of the three great Italian bel canto opera composers. Rossini’s ‘Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra’ (1829) had sparked Italian opera composers’ interest in English history; Coccia and Mercadante would also write operas about Tudor monarchs.
‘Anna Bolena’ is the first of Donizetti’s ‘Three Queens’ operas, which deal with the Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII here, and Elizabeth I in ‘Maria Stuarda’ (1835) and ‘Roberto Devereux’ (1837). Elizabeth also appeared in an earlier opera, ‘Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth’ (1829). Although ‘Anna Bolena’ has several impressive passages, it is a more static opera than its successors, and ends, like many Italian bel canto operas, with a lengthy scene for the soprano.
Giuditta Pasta created the title role, which has provided a vehicle for a star soprano: Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills and more recently Anna Netrebko and Sondra Radvanovsky.
No. 11 – Ultima Scena: ‘Chi può vederla a ciglio asciutto’
‘Al dolce guidami’
Anne Boleyn is in the Tower, about to be beheaded on the orders of Henry VIII. Her ladies-in-waiting lament her pitiful condition. Anna enters, insane; she thinks this is the night of her wedding to Henry. The sound of Henry’s marriage to Jane Seymour temporarily restores her senses; she calls on heaven’s mercy for the guilty couple, and then collapses.
Anna Bolena, regina d’Inghilterra / Queen of England (soprano): Beverly Sills
Lord Rochefort, fratello di Anna / Anne’s brother (bass): Robert Lloyd
Lord Riccardo Percy (tenor): Stuart Burrows
Smeton, paggio e musico della regina / the Queen’s page and musican (contralto): Patricia Kern
Sir Hervey, ufficiale del re / court official (tenor): Robert Tear
John Alldis Choir
Conductor: Julius Rudel
London Symphony Orchestra