Donizetti's Anna Bolena is loosely based on a familiar episode from English history — the short-lived marriage of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry's six wives.
In 16th century England, King Enrico VIII has fallen in love with his queen, Anna's lady-in-waiting, Giovanna Seymour. In order to put the queen in a compromising situation and to allow for his marriage to Giovanna, Enrico recalls Lord Riccardo Percy, Anna's love, from exile. After the Queen refuses Percy's advances on account that she is married, Percy threatens to kill himself. Before he can do that, however, Enrico rushes in with his men and claims to find the queen and Percy in a 'compromising situation'. Enrico then sends Percy and Anna to jail and eventually to their deaths.
Opera in 2 acts
Sung in Italian
About 3 hours + interval
Year 1536, Windsor and London
Night. Windsor Castle, Queen's apartments
Courtiers comment that the queen’s star is setting, because the king’s fickle heart burns with another love.
Jane Seymour enters to attend a call by the Queen; Anna enters and notes that people seem sad. The queen admits to Jane that she is troubled. At the queen’s request, her page Smeaton plays the harp and sings in an attempt to cheer the people present. The queen asks him to stop. Unheard by any one else, she says to herself that the ashes of her first love are still burning, and that she is now unhappy in her vain splendor. All leave, except Jane.
Henry VIII enters and tells Jane that soon she will have no rival, that the altar has been prepared for her, and that she will have husband, sceptre, and throne. Each leaves by a different door.
Day. Around Windsor Castle
Lord Rochefort, Anna’s brother, is surprised to meet Lord Richard Percy, who has been called back to England from exile by Henry VIII. Percy asks if it is true that the Queen is unhappy and that the King has changed. Rochefort answers that love is never content.
Hunters enter. Percy is agitated at the prospect of possibly seeing Anna, who was his first love. Henry and Anna enter and express surprise at seeing Percy. Henry does not allow Percy to kiss his hand, but says that Anna has given him assurances of Percy’s innocence but she still has feelings for Percy. Henry VIII tells Hervey, an officer of the king, to spy on every step and every word of Anna and Percy.
Windsor Castle, close to the Queen's apartments
Smeaton takes a locket from his breast containing Anna’s portrait. He has stolen it and has come to return it. He hears a sound and hides behind a screen. Anna and Rochefort enter. Rochefort asks Anna to hear Percy. Then he leaves. Smeaton peeps out from behind the screen, but cannot escape. Percy enters. Percy says that he sees that Anna is unhappy. She tells him that the king now loathes her. Percy says that he still loves her. Anna tells him not to speak to her of love. Before leaving, Percy asks whether he can see Anna again. She says no. He draws his sword to stab himself, and Anna screams. In the mistaken belief that Percy is attacking Anna, Smeaton rushes out from behind the screen. Smeaton and Percy are about to fight. Anna faints, and Rochefort rushes in. Just then, Henry VIII enters and sees the unsheathed swords. Summoning attendants, he says that these persons have betrayed their king. Smeaton says that it is not true, and tears open his tunic to offer his breast to the king for slaying if he is lying. The locket with Anna’s portrait falls at the king’s feet. The king snatches it up. He orders that the offenders be dragged to dungeons. Anna says to herself that her fate is sealed.
London. Antechamber of the Queen's apartments
The guards note that even Jane Seymour has stayed away from Anna. Anna enters with a retinue of ladies, who tell her to place her trust in heaven. Hervey enters and says that the Council of Peers has summoned the ladies into its presence. The ladies leave with Hervey. Jane enters and says that Anna can avoid being put to death by admitting guilt. Anna says that she will not buy her life with infamy. She expresses the hope that her successor will wear a crown of thorns. Jane admits that she is to be the successor. Anna tells her to leave, but says that Henry VIII alone is the guilty one. Jane leaves, deeply upset.
Antechamber leading into the hall where the Council of Peers is meeting
Hervey tells courtiers that Anna is lost, because Smeaton has talked and has revealed a crime. Henry VIII enters. Hervey says that Smeaton has fallen into the trap. Henry VIII tells Hervey to continue to let Smeaton believe that he has saved Anna's life. Anna and Percy are brought in, separately. Henry VIII says that Anna has made love to the page Smeaton, and that there are witnesses. He says that both Anna and Percy will die. Percy says that it is written in heaven that he and Anna are married. They are led away by guards.
Jane enters. She says that she does not want to be the cause of Anna's death. Henry VIII says that she will not save Anna by leaving. Hervey enters and says that the Council has dissolved the royal marriage and has condemned Anna and her accomplices to death. Courtiers and Jane ask the king to be merciful. He tells them to leave.
Tower of London
Percy and Rochefort are together in their cell. Hervey enters and says that the king has pardoned them. They ask about Anna. Hearing that she is to be executed, they choose to be executed also. They leave, surrounded by guards.
In Anna's cell, a chorus of ladies comment on her madness and grief. Anna enters, she imagines that it is her wedding day to the king. Then she imagines that she sees Percy, and she asks him to take her back to her childhood home (Donizetti used the theme from the English/American song Home Sweet Home as part of Anna’s Mad Scene to underscore her longing). Percy, Rochefort and Smeaton are brought in. Smeaton throws himself at Anna's feet and says that he accused her in the belief that he was saving her life. In her delirium, Anna asks him why he is not playing his lute. The sound of cannon is heard. Anna comes to her senses. She is told that Jane and Henry VIII are being acclaimed by the populace on their wedding day. Anna says that she does not invoke vengeance on the wicked couple. She faints. Guards enter to lead the prisoners to the block. Smeaton, Percy and Rochefort say that one victim has already been sacrificed.
Anna Bolena (Anne Boleyn) – Soprano (spinto)
Queen of England
Enrico (Henry VIII) - Bass
King of England
Giovanna Seymour (Jane Seymour)- Mezzo-soprano
Lord Rochefort (George Boleyn) - Bass/Bass-baritone
Riccardo Percy (Henry Percy) - Tenor
Smeton (Mark Smeaton) - Contralto
Hervey - Tenor
A court official
Place of birth: Bergamo, Italy
Place of death: Bergamo, Italy
Gaetano Donizetti was an Italian composer of the bel canto style. During the span of his life he wrote about 70 operas. His two most popular operas today are L’elisir d’amore and Lucia di Lammermoor.
Donizetti didn’t come from a musical family, but started taking music lessons at an early age. In 1822, after his ninth opera, the impresario of Teatro di San Carlo in Naples offered him a residency. For the next 22 years he wrote 51 operas that were performed at the theatre.
Donizetti married Virginia Vasselli in 1828. She gave birth to three children but none of them survived. In 1837 Virgina died, and within a year of her death, both of Donizetti’s parents also died. He never completely recovered from his grief. At the end of his life he lived at an institution for the mentally ill and just before his death he was moved back to Bergamo where he was born.
Although being mainly an opera composer, Donizetti also wrote symphonies, songs, sacred music, string quartets and other chamber music. Together with Rossini and Bellini he shaped the bel canto style during the first part of the 19th century. After Bellini’s death, Donizetti was the major Italian composer until Verdi.
“My heyday is over, and another must take my place. The world wants something new. Others have ceded their places to us and we must cede ours to still others... I am more than happy to give mine to people of talent like Verdi. ”
Donizetti often staged his own operas.
Most prominent operas
Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after Ippolito Pindemonte's Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli's Anna Bolena, both recounting the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England's King Henry VIII.
Felice Romani was an Italian librettist, poet and scholar of literature and mythology. His list of works is extensive producing nearly 100 librettos during his lifetime including many librettos for Donizetti and Bellini. His most famous works are Bellini’s I capuleti e i Montecchi, La sonnambula, I Puritani and Norma, Rossini’s Il turco in Italia and Donizetti’s Anna Bolena and L’elisir d’amore. He was regarded as the best Italian librettist of his age.
3, 3, 2, 2 - 4, 2, 3, 0
timp, perc, strings
Anna Bolena was Donizetti's first major hit. It premiered in 1830 at the Teatro Carcano in Milan, to "overwhelming success."
Ensemble - Finale
Aria - Sul suo paco (Anna Bolena, Giovanna)
Aria – Al dolce guidami (Anna Bolena)
Aria – Coppia iniquia (Anna Bolena)