Opera Profile: Donizetti’s ‘Tudor Trilogy’ Episode I – ‘Anna Bolena’

By David Salazar

“Anna Bolena” premiered on Dec. 26, 1830 and became the first of the Donizetti’s unofficial “Tudor Trilogy.”

The opera was a major turning point for Donizetti as well, becoming one of the first operas to launch him to major acclaim in Italy. While the work was largely ignored for much of the early 20th century, the likes of Maria Callas and other prominent sopranos of the mid-20th century ensured that the work would slowly re-emerge in the operatic canon. To this day it has yet to establish much of a foothold outside of being a vehicle for the best sopranos around.

Short Plot Summary

King Enrico is tired of his marriage with Anna and has instead fallen for Giovanna Seymour. He tells her that all is prepared for her to eventually become his queen.

Meanwhile Lord Riccardo Percy, who once loved Anna, arrives at Windsor Castle to everyone’s surprised, especially the King and Queen. Enrico tells his officer Hervey to spy on Percy’s every move.

Smeaton, a page, has stolen a locket that contains a portrait of the queen and seeks to return it. However, he hides behind a screen when he notices people coming into Anna’s room – they include Anna and her brother Rochefort, who wants her to speak with Percy. Percy and Anna converse and as they wrap up their chat, Percy asks Anna if he can see her again. She declines and he prepares to stab himself. Smeaton comes to her rescues and tumult ensues with the King eventually finds the locket on Smeaton’s person, ordering that Anna be put on trial.

Giovanna confronts Anna and confesses that she is to be the next queen. Anna is tried and condemned. Giovanna attempts to save Anna but is unable to do anything before the King. In her cell, Anna goes mad and condemns the new couple as she prepares for death.

Famous Musical Passages

The opera’s most famous passage without any doubt is the final cabaletta for soprano, “Coppia iniqua.” After a terribly long passage of singing throughout her “mad” scene, Donizetti leaves the diva with a passage filled with heavy singing, coloratura, and general virtuosity.

Watch and Listen

Anna Netrebko is one of the foremost interpreters of the opera in recent times, her interpretation notable for its regality and her tremendous acting abilities. Paired with Elina Garanca, the duo conform one of the most dynamic rivalries in recent opera. Here they are from the Vienna State Opera.


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