Anna Bolena

Gaetano Donizetti, libretto by Felice Romani
Met Opera on Demand
Metropolitan Opera House, New York
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Ildar Abdrazakov as Enrico, Anna Netrebko as the Anna Bolena and Keith Miller as Lord Rochefort Credit: Ken Howard
Anna Netrebko as the Anna Bolena Credit: Ken Howard

Gaetano Donizetti’s Anna Bolena premièred in 1830 with great success and was a major turning point in his career. One of the reasons that it is rarely performed today is that it is vocally very difficult and the lead role is one of the most taxing roles in the operatic repertoire.

Anna Boleyn was created by the great singer Giuditta Pasta and the opera remained popular for 50 years before going out of fashion. It was Maria Callas in 1957 who gave it a new lease of life and it has since been sung by such luminaries as Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills.

David McVicar’s production in 2011 at The Metropolitan, New York, was conducted by Marco Armiliato. It was the first time The Met had staged the opera. Anna Netrebko played the lead role and proved she had the stamina.

Anne is doomed. There is no escape. It’s a tough role. There’s no respite. Felice Roman’s libretto provides a drama which is emotionally involving.

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife and mother of the future Elizabeth I, has failed to give him the male heir he wants. Henry is in love with Jane Seymour, Anne’s lady-in-waiting and dearest friend. He engineers a situation so that can accuse Anne of adultery with Lord Percy, the man she loved before she became ambitious to be queen.

Stephen Costello is an ardent and persistent lover and he and Netrebko have a great scene together. The opera is notable for the compassion Donizetti shows to Boleyn, and also to Percy and Seymour.

Ildar Abdrazakov’s Henry has the stature, the authority and the danger the role requires. Ekaterina Gubanova’s Jane is wracked with shame, guilt and remorse. Anna, in their great scene together, does not blame her. She blames Henry.

Netrebko’s voice soars in the final delirious scene which ends with Boleyn’s execution off-stage.

There are a number of ways of tapping into this opera and others at will. The Met Opera on Demand service offers annual ($149.99) and monthly ($14.99) subscriptions as well as a one-off payment ($4.99) for those who have limited time or only want to watch the occasional opera.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch