Gaetano Donizetti, an extremely prolific Italian composer of opera, is perhaps most well known for the tragic work Lucia di Lammermoor, which itself is famous for the bloody “mad scene” that the title character has. But we’re not there at the moment. Since this month’s blog theme is Tudor England, we’re going to pay a little attention to the quartet of Donizetti operas that take place during that time period, specifically Anna Bolena. Pictured above is superstar soprano Anna Netrebko in the title role of Queen Anne at the Met.
Donizetti’s quartet of Tudor operas focused on three figures, respectively- Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots, and then Elizabeth I again. The women are thus referred to in opera circles as “Donizetti’s Three Queens.” Of the four works, Queen Elizabeth I is a principal character in three, the exception being Anna Bolena, which focuses on her mother. Interestingly, Anna Bolena (like the aforementioned Lucia di Lammermoor) is also known for the main character’s “mad scene.” Unlike Lucia, whose insanity comes after she murders her lover, Anna’s big moment (so to speak) occurs as she is awaiting her own execution.
Interestingly, the woman who’d become Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, is a mezzo soprano principal role in Anna Bolena. Predictably, Anne, Elizabeth, and Mary Queen of Scots are all played by sopranos. But a duet between the soprano and mezzo of Anna Bolena has since emerged to become one of Donizetti’s most lauded pieces. The Tudor opera quartet itself was not widely produced as verismo (the “raw and modern” style perfected by Puccini) started rising to popularity, but in recent years, frequent pair Netrebko and Elina Garanca have stepped into the roles of Anne and Jane to breathe life into Donizetti’s vision of Tudor England for new audiences.