AVA Opera stages Donizetti’s ‘Anna Bolena’

by Michael Caruso
Posted 11/9/23

The Academy of Vocal Arts will present a fully staged mounting of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” Nov. 11 to 23 in Center City.

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AVA Opera stages Donizetti’s ‘Anna Bolena’


The Academy of Vocal Arts will present a fully staged mounting of Gaetano Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” Nov. 11 to 23 at the school's Helen Corning Warden Theater in Center City. A final performance will be given Nov. 28 in the Haverford School’s Centennial Hall on the Main Line.

“Anna Bolena” is the first of three operas in what has come to be known as Donizetti’s “Three Tudor Queens.” It premiered in 1830 in the Teatro Carcano in Milan. It was followed in 1834-35 by “Maria Stuarda,” and then “Roberto Devereux” in 1837.

The first focuses on the life and death of Anne Boleyn. When England’s King Henry VIII abandoned hope of having a son with his wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, he divorced her to marry Anne Boleyn, the daughter of a prominent member of his court. Although Anne gave birth to a daughter – destined to reign as Queen Elizabeth I, one of England’s greatest – Henry soon divorced her, marrying a string of other queens. His third wife, Jane Seymour, produced his only living son, Edward VI, who reigned as king from 1547 until 1553.

The focus of “Maria Stuarda” is Mary Stuart, “Queen of Scots.” She was a cousin of England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Her return to Scotland to take up the Scottish throne instigated the final outbreak of tension and virtual warfare between Scotland and England.

When Mary was overthrown in 1567, she fled to England, hoping for help from her cousin to regain her throne. When help wasn’t forthcoming – Elizabeth preferred the Protestant earls to the Catholic Mary – she foolishly plotted to have Elizabeth assassinated. The cabal around her was uncovered and, after many years languishing in an English prison, she was beheaded in 1587.

The final opus in Donizetti’s “Three Tudor Queens” is “Roberto Devereux” It takes place long after Queen Mary Stuart was executed and focuses on the purported love affair between the aging Queen Elizabeth and the younger and dashing Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux.

Although Elizabeth had styled herself “The Virgin Queen” as an Anglican replacement for the Roman Catholic tradition of veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the reality of the Queen’s status was anything but certain. In an odd twist of coincidence, the acknowledged “great love of her life” was Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Late in his life, he became the stepfather of Robert Devereux through marriage.

Aside from their legendary good looks, both Dudley and Leicester shared another trait – raging ambition. Both wanted to marry Elizabeth to become “King Matrimonial.” Mary Stuart had made that mistake with Lord Darnley – and paid for it by being overthrown. Elizabeth had no intention of not learning from her mistake. Dudley died from the plague and Devereux was beheaded for attempting to overthrow the Queen.

For those of you who are interested in viewing a cinematic dramatization of these three takes on royal love and intrigue, three film versions are waiting for your delectation. The best of them is the classic 1939 Warner Bros.’ “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.”  Filmed in glorious Technicolor (the original three-strip version!) and directed by Michael Curtiz with a score composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, it stars the incomparable Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth and the appropriately dashing Errol Flynn as Robert Devereux.

For a look at Anne Boleyn and Mary Stuart, two lavish “Hollywood historical pageants” are noteworthy. Made within two years of each other – 1969 and 1971 – there’s “Anne of the Thousand Days” and “Mary, Queen of Scots.” The former stars Genevieve Bujold and Richard Burton, respectively, as Anne and King Henry VIII; the latter features Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson as Mary and Elizabeth.

In an odd point of curiosity, there’s a crowd scene in “Anne of the Thousand Days” that boasts an uncredited “extra” who just so happens to be the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor wearing the famous “La Peregrina Pearl,” once owned by King Phillip II of Spain and given as an engagement present to England’s Queen Mary Tudor, the older sister of Queen Elizabeth I.

Donizetti (1797-1848) and Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) were the foremost exponents of the “bel canto” (beautiful singing) style of opera composition in Italy prior to the more dramatic fashion proffered by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Their style featured extended, elegantly phrased lyrical lines decorated by “coloratura” flights of fancy. Although many of their operas employed stylized libretti that were peopled by historical figures, their music pulses with powerful emotions potently delineated that still resonate with audiences today.

AVA’s production will be conducted by Steven White and directed by Christopher Mattaliano, both making their debuts.

 For ticket information, call 215-735-1685 or visit

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