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Gaetano Donizetti's 'Anna Bolena'

King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn are the subjects of Donizetti's opera <em>Anna Bolena</em>.
/ Getty Images
Getty Images
King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn are the subjects of Donizetti's opera Anna Bolena.

The stories of Henry VIII and his six wives have inspired many artistic spin-offs, from films like Anne of the Thousand Days and plays like A Man for All Seasons, to silly songs like the Herman's Hermits I'm Henry the Eighth I Am and even an episode of the Simpsons (Margical History Tour).

Although Henry's marital history has sometimes been presented in a light-hearted way, the beheading of his second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn, is nothing to laugh at. When opera composer Gaetano Donizetti decided to put his own stamp on the story, he took advantage of the treasonous interpersonal relationships inside the royal court, highlighting the sad fate of the Queen. The final curtain falls just before her execution, as she slowly goes mad inside the Tower of London.

Anna Bolena was Donizetti's first major hit, though he had already composed some 30 operas. It premiered in Milan in 1830. Its success earned Donizetti commissions from Italy's best opera houses, along with a newfound reputation in foreign musical capitals such as Paris and Vienna.

The opera remained popular for nearly five decades but fell out of fashion as the new century approached. Anna Bolena would have to wait another 50 years before making a comeback when Maria Callas starred in a successful production at La Scala, in Milan in 1957.

On this edition of World of Opera host Lisa Simeone brings us a production by Opera Orchestra of New York from Carnegie Hall. The performance is another example of the company's long-held commitment to the presentation of rarely heard operas.

Veteran bass-baritone James Morris sings the role of Henry VIII with soprano Krassimira Stoyanova as his unlucky wife Anne Boleyn, and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Larmore as his third wife Jane Seymour.

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