Henry VIII (opera)

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For the play, see Henry VIII (play).
Henry VIII
Opera by Camille Saint-Saëns
Setting for the premiere, evoking Westminster Hall
Language French
Based on El cisma en Inglaterra
by Pedro Calderón de la Barca
Premiere 5 March 1883 (1883-03-05)
Académie Nationale de Musique, Paris

Henry VIII is an opera in four acts by Camille Saint-Saëns, from a libretto by Léonce Détroyat and Armand Silvestre, based on El cisma en Inglaterra (The schism in England) by Pedro Calderón de la Barca.

Composition history[edit]

Fragment of the sheet music (as depicted in Saint-Saëns by Lucien Augé de Lassus

The action covers the period in Henry VIII's life when the king was discarding Queen Catherine of Aragon in favour of Anne Boleyn, a move rejected by the Church.

In an effort to evoke the historical context, Saint-Saëns researched English music from the period and incorporated several English, Scottish, and Irish folk melodies into his score, as well as an air by William Byrd, contained in the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book.

Performance history[edit]

Henry VIII received its first performance on 5 March 1883 at the Académie Nationale de Musique, with costumes designed by Eugène Lacoste and settings by Antoine Lavastre and Eugène Louis Carpezat (Act I), Jean-Baptiste Lavastre (Act II and Act IV, scene 2), and Auguste-Alfred Rubé and Philippe Chaperon (Act III and Act IV, scene 1). A new production directed by Paul Stuart premiered on 18 June 1909, with costumes by Charles Bianchini and sets by Carpezat, Marcel Jambon and Alexandre Bailly. Henry VIII remained in the repertoire of the Opéra until 1919. It was also seen at the Royal Opera House, London in 1889 with Maurice Renaud in the title role, Lina Pacary as Catherine d'Aragon, and Meyriane Héglon as Anne Boleyn. It was revived in 1991 at the Théatre Impérial de Compiègne in a production by Pierre Jourdan, with Philippe Rouillon as Henry VIII, Michèle Command as Catherine of Aragon and Lucile Vignon as Anne Boleyn. The production was made into a film.

Performances were given at the Liceu in Barcelona in 2002 where it was staged once again by Pierre Jourdan with Montserrat Caballé as Catherine, Simon Estes as Henry and Nomeda Kazlaus as Anne Boleyn, with José Collado conducting.

A concert performance was given at the Bard College Music Festival, Annandale-on-Hudson, on 20 August 2012, with Ellie Dehn as Catherine, Jason Howard as Henry, and Jennifer Holloway as Anne Boleyn. Leon Botstein conducted.[citation needed]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 5 March 1883[1]
Henry VIII baritone Jean Lassalle
Catherine d'Aragon soprano Gabrielle Krauss
Anne Boleyn mezzo-soprano Alphonsine Richard
Lady Clarence soprano Mlle Nastorg
Don Gomez de Feria tenor Étienne Dereims
Cardinal Campeggio, legatus of the pope bass Auguste Boudouresque
Le duc de Norfolk bass Eugène Lorrain
Le comte de Surrey tenor Étienne Sapin
Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury bass M. Gaspard
Garter King of Arms tenor M. Malvaut
Un huissier bass M. Boutens


  • Philippe Rouillon, baritone (Henry); Michèle Command, soprano (Catherine of Aragon); Lucile Vignon, mezzo-soprano (Anne Boleyn); Alain Gabriel, tenor (Don Gomez), Lucile Vignon, conducted by Alain Guingal. Le Chant Du Monde. 1991 (also available as a DVD, Kultur Films)



  1. ^ (French) Piotr Kaminski, 1001 opéras, Fayard, 2003, p. 1383


External links[edit]