Anna Bolena, Opera by G. Donizetti
The deep artistic interest into the English Tudor period inspired Gaetano Donizetti to produce several highly praised operas, but the first and arguably most successful one of those was Anna Bolena. One of his classic “queen operas”, it has all the bearing of a genre-defining work, as guests of Rome’s Teatro Costanzi will find out.
Elizabethan times were a period of great political intrigue and similarly expansive cultural growth, and they turned out to be a major source of creative energy for Donizetti. Working on a commission from Milan’s Teatro Carcano, the composer teamed up with librettist Felice Romani to adapt the short but very significant life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII.
Romani created his highly fictionalised account of Boleyn’s life based on several pre-existing plays that largely went against the popular historical accounts of the young woman’s motivations and actions. The unlikely depiction of Anne Boleyn as an innocent martyr that quietly accepts her fate at the hands of an unjust absolute monarch works surprisingly well, mainly thanks to Donizetti’s fantastic score.
Working on Anna Bolena in his usual mad rush, Donizetti composed the whole opera in a matter of weeks. This fact makes it even more astounding how developed the characters are and how nuanced and expressive each aria and duet sounds. Anna’s solo numbers and especially her prison ‘mad scene’ reveal the purity of her heart and the fortitude of her moral grounding, all in splendid writing for the soprano voice. Giovanna (Jane Seymour) is a beloved role for any mezzo-soprano that delivers passionate and dramatic lines seldom seen in this vocal register.
Donizetti’s compositional style in Anna Bolena pushes the music towards centre stage and employs its expressive potentials in a dynamic amalgam of arias, duets, ensembles and orchestral passages that follow one another in perfect order. The final product never fails to impress. Already at its premiere on 26 December 1830 at Teatro Carcano in Milan, Anna Bolena was an undenied triumph.
Although many are familiar with the story of the devious Anne Boleyn, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena instead paints the picture of an innocent, principled young woman who deeply regrets sacrificing true love for social status. The Maestro’s inspired music will certainly make you believe that!