Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky embarks on her quest to vocally conquer all three of Donizetti’s historic Tudor queen operas in the same season, here as a young royal grasping at power and paying a terrible price. Bass Ildar Abdrazakov is King Henry VIII, not one of history’s kindest husbands; mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton is Jane Seymour, the king’s consort and the reason the queen loses her head. Tenor Stephen Costello plays the queen’s love interest in Sir David McVicar’s gripping period production. Marco Armiliato conducts.
World premiere: Milan, Teatro Carcano, 1830. Met premiere: September 26, 2011. The first of Donizetti’s operas to achieve wide success, Anna Bolena is based on the historical episode of the fall and death of England’s Queen Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. While many operas use history as a point of departure for storytelling, Anna Bolena stays closer to real events than most. The lead role was created by Giuditta Pasta, a great prima donna of her day who would also sing the premiere of Bellini’sNorma the following year.
Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848) composed about 75 operas in a career abbreviated by mental illness and premature death. Most of his works disappeared from the public eye after his death, but critical and popular opinion of his huge opus has grown considerably over the past 50 years. Felice Romani (1788–1865) was the official librettist of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala and worked with Donizetti on several other operas.
PRODUCTION Sir David McVicar
SET DESIGNER Robert Jones
COSTUME DESIGNER Jenny Tiramani
LIGHTING DESIGNER Paule Constable
CHOREOGRAPHER Andrew George
The trial of Anne Boleyn took place on May 15, 1536, and her execution followed four days later. The opera’s first act is set during the weeks leading up to the trial, in Greenwich Castle near London. Act II takes place at the Tower of London, between trial and execution.
One of the most striking characteristics of all of Donizetti’s works is the power and abundance of melody that, in context, reveals a deeper dramatic purpose. Nowhere in Anna Bolena is this combination more apparent than in the final scene. As Anne awaits her execution, she goes through a variety of emotions and mental conditions, including terror, illusory calm, and confusion bordering on hallucination—all leading to a final climactic outburst that is a masterpiece of musical insight and a superb example of opera’s ability to explore the human dimensions behind history.
LORD RICCARDO PERCY