Anna Bolena is a tragedia lirica, or opera, in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after Ippolito Pindemonte's Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli's Anna Bolena, both telling of the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England's King Henry VIII.
It is one of a number of operas by Donizetti which deal with the Tudor period in English history, including (in composition order) Il castello di Kenilworth in 1829, which was then followed by Anna Bolena. Maria Stuarda (named for Mary, Queen of Scots) appeared in different forms in 1834 and 1835. Finally, in 1837, Roberto Devereux (named for a putative lover of Queen Elizabeth I of England) was presented. The leading female characters of the operas Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux are often referred to as the "Three Donizetti Queens."
The duet "Sul suo capo aggravi un Dio" between Anna (soprano) and Jane Seymour (mezzo soprano) (and, historically, who later became Henry VIII's third wife) is considered one of the finest in the entire operatic repertoire.
It premiered on 26 December 1830 at the Teatro Carcano, Milan to "overwhelming success". Thus the composer had begun "to emerge as one of three most luminous names in the world of Italian opera", joining Bellini and Rossini.
After its opening performances in Italy in 1830 and the several years which followed, Anna Bolena was first given in London at the King's Theatre on 8 July 1831 while its first US performance was given in French (as Anne de Boulen) in New Orleans at the Théâtre d'Orléans on 12 November 1839. It does appear to have been presented in Europe up to 1850 in 25 cities and then again in 1881 in Livorno, after which it has been regarded as having suffered from the rise of verismo opera.
The opera was performed infrequently during the latter half of 19th century.
20th century and beyond
Rarely seen in the early 20th century, it was revived with more frequency in the post-war years. The Santa Fe Opera claims to have been the first company to give "the first full stage production in over a century" in the US on 26 June 1959. On 30 December 1947, the opera was performed at Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, celebrating the centennial of this theatre, which had opened in 1847 with Anna Bolena. The cast was Sara Scuderi as Anna, Giulietta Simionato as Jane Seymour and Cesare Siepi as Henry VIII.
In April 1957, the opera was revived at La Scala for Maria Callas (one of the performances was recorded) in a lavish production directed by Luchino Visconti where Giulietta Simionato sang the role of Giovanna Seymour. It proved to be one of Callas' greatest triumphs. Similarly it was one of the last new roles performed by Dame Joan Sutherland in a concert performance at Avery Fisher Hall. Some other famous leading ladies that have lent their voices to the role of Anna have been Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, Marisa Galvany, Renata Scotto, Edita Gruberova and Mariella Devia. In addition, Beverly Sills earned a considerable degree of fame in the 1970s, when she appeared in all three of Donizetti's "Tudor" operas in a series presented by New York City Opera. She also made studio recordings of all three operas.
While not yet having joined the "standard repertory", Anna Bolena is increasingly being performed today  and there are several recordings.
It was presented by the Dallas Opera in November 2010, which has also presented Maria Suarda. The Minnesota Opera has also presented this opera as one part of the "Three Queens" trilogy. The Vienna State Opera gave it in the Spring of 2011 with Anna Netrebko in the title role and Elina Garanca in Seymour's role. New York's Metropolitan Opera presented it for the first time in September 2011 as the opening of the company's 2011-2012 season also with Netrebko and with David McVicar directing.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 26 December 1830
(Conductor: - )
|Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn)||soprano||Giuditta Pasta|
|Enrico (Henry VIII)||bass||Filippo Galli|
|Giovanna Seymour (Jane Seymour), Anna's lady-in-waiting||mezzo-soprano||Elisa Orlandi|
|Lord Rochefort (George Boleyn), Anna's brother||bass||Lorenzo Biondi|
|Lord Percy||tenor||Giovanni Battista Rubini|
|Smeton (Mark Smeaton), musician||contralto||Henriette Laroche|
|Hervey, court official||tenor||Antonio Crippa|
|Courtiers, soldiers, huntsmen|
- Time: 1536
- Place: Windsor and London
Scene One: Night. Windsor Castle, Queen's apartments
Courtiers comment that the queen’s star is setting, because the king’s fickle heart burns with another love.
Jane Seymour enters to attend a call by the Queen, Anna enters and notes that people seem sad. The queen admits being troubled to Jane. At the queen’s request, her page Smeaton plays the harp and sings to cheer the people present. The queen asks him to stop. Unheard by any one else, she says to herself that the ashes of her first love are still burning, and that she is now unhappy in her vain splendor. All leave, except Jane.
Henry VIII enters, he tells Jane that soon she will have no rival, that the altar has been prepared for her, that she will have husband, sceptre, and throne. Each leaves by a different door.
Scene Two: Day. Around Windsor Castle
Lord Rochefort, Anna’s brother, is surprised to meet Lord Richard Percy, who has been called back to England from exile by Henry VIII. Percy asks if it is true that the Queen is unhappy and that the King has changed. Rochefort answers that love is never content.
Hunters enter. Percy is agitated at the prospect of possibly seeing Anna, who was his first love. Henry and Anna enter and express surprise at seeing Percy. Henry does not allow Percy to kiss his hand, but says that Anna has given him assurances of Percy’s innocence but she still has feelings for Percy. Henry VIII tells Hervey, an officer of the king, to be the spy of every step and every word of Anna and Percy.
Scene Three: Windsor Castle, close to the Queen's apartments
Smeaton takes a locket from his breast containing Anna’s portrait. He has stolen it and has come to return it. He hears a sound and hides behind a screen. Anna and Rochefort enter. Rochefort asks Anna to hear Percy. Then he leaves. Smeaton peeps out from behind the screen, but cannot escape. Percy enters. Percy says that he sees that Anna is unhappy. She tells him that the king now loathes her. Percy says that he still loves her. Anna tells him not to speak to her of love. Before leaving, Percy asks whether he can see Anna again. She says no. He draws his sword to stab himself, and Anna screams. In the mistaken belief that Percy is attacking Anna, Smeaton rushes out from behind the screen. Smeaton and Percy are about to fight. Anna faints, and Rochefort rushes in. Just then, Henry VIII enters and sees the unsheathed swords. Summoning attendants, he says that these persons have betrayed their king. Smeaton says that it is not true, and tears open his tunic to offer his breast to the king for slaying if he is lying. The locket with Anna’s portrait falls at the king’s feet. The king snatches it up. He orders that the offenders be dragged to dungeons. Anna says to herself that her fate is sealed.
Scene One: London. Antechamber of the Queen's apartments
The guards note that even Jane Seymour has stayed away from Anna. Anna enters with a retinue of ladies, who tell her to place her trust in heaven. Hervey enters and says that the Council of Peers has summoned the ladies into its presence. The ladies leave with Hervey. Jane enters and says that Anna can avoid being put to death by admitting guilt. Anna says that she will not buy her life with infamy. She expresses the hope that her successor will wear a crown of thorns. Jane admits that she is to be the successor. Anna tells her to leave, but says that Henry VIII alone is the guilty one. Jane leaves, deeply upset.
Scene Two: Antechamber leading into the hall where the Council of Peers is meeting
Hervey tells courtiers that Anna is lost, because Smeaton has talked and has revealed a crime. Henry VIII enters. Hervey says that Smeaton has fallen into the trap. Henry VIII tells Hervey to continue to let Smeaton believe that he has saved Anna's life. Anna and Percy are brought in, separately. Henry VIII says that Anna has made love to the page Smeaton, and that there are witnesses. He says that both Anna and Percy will die. Percy says that it is written in heaven that he and Anna are married. They are led away by guards.
Jane enters. She says that she does not want to be the cause of Anna's death. Henry VIII says that she will not save Anna by leaving. Hervey enters and says that the Council has dissolved the royal marriage and has condemned Anna and her accomplices to death. Courtiers and Jane ask the king to be merciful. He tells them to leave.
Scene Three: Tower of London
Percy and Rochefort are together in their cell. Hervey enters and says that the king has pardoned them. They ask about Anna. Hearing that she is to be executed, they choose to be executed also. They leave, surrounded by guards.
In Anna's cell, a chorus of ladies comment on her madness and grief. Anna enters, she imagines that it is her wedding day to the king. Then she imagines that she sees Percy, and she asks him to take her back to her childhood home (Donizetti used the theme from the English/American song Home Sweet Home as part of Anna’s Mad Scene to underscore her longing). Percy, Rochefort and Smeaton are brought in. Smeaton throws himself at Anna's feet and says that he accused her in the belief that he was saving her life. In her delirium, Anna asks him why he is not playing his lute. The sound of cannon is heard. Anna comes to her senses. She is told that Jane and Henry VIII are being acclaimed by the populace on their wedding day. Anna says that she does not invoke vengeance on the wicked couple. She faints. Guards enter to lead the prisoners to the block. Smeaton, Percy and Rochefort say that one victim has already been sacrificed.
Opera House and Orchestra
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan
(Recorded live on 14 April)
Cat: CDMB 5 66474-2
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della RAI di Milano
Cat: ANDRCD 5114
|Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Glyndebourne Festival,
London Philharmonic Orchestra,
Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
(Recorded live on 13 June)
Cat: CD 554
Orchester und Chor des Westdeutschen Rundfunks Cologne
|CD: Opera Depot
Cat: OD 10388-2
Vienna State Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: 455 069-2
London Symphony Orchestra
John Alldis Choir
|CD: DG Westminster Legacy
Cat: 471 217-2
Orchestra and Chorus of the
Canadian Opera Company
Hungarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra
|CD: Nightingale Classics
Cat: NCO 070565-2
|Fabrizio Maria Carminati,
Orchestra and Chorus of the
Bergamo Musica Festival Gaetano Donizetti
(Recorded at Teatro Donizetti in October)
Orchestra and Chorus of the
Vienna State Opera
|DVD: Deutsche Gramophon
DDD 0440 073 4725 6 GH2
- Weinstock, pp. 73 - 75: Weinstock goes on to note that it was only after the success of this opera that Donizetti's teacher, Johann Simon Mayr "began to address his former pupil as Maestro"
- Osborne, pp. 194 - 197
- Scott, p. 21
- Performances on operabase.com
- Anthony Tommasini (September 27, 2011). "A Queen’s Delusion and Defiance Opens the Met Season". The New York Times.
- Rian Evans, Anna Bolena - Review", The Guardian (London), 8 September 2013 on theguardian.com
- Rupert Chistiansen, "Anna Bolena, Welsh National Opera, review", Telegraph (London), 8 September 2013 on telegraph.co.uk
- Source for recording information: Recording(s) of Anna Bolena on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Osborne, Charles, The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press, 1994 ISBN 0-931340-71-3
- Scott, Eleanor, The First Twenty Years of the Santa Fe Opera, Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press, 1976
- Weinstock, Herbert, Donizetti and the World of Opera in Italy, Paris, and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century, New York: Pantheon Books, 1963. ISBN 63-13703
- Ashbrook, William, Donizetti and His Operas, Cambridge University Press, 1982, ISBN 0-521-23526-X ISBN 0-521-23526-X
- Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4