Coming Soon to a Movie Theater Near You: Donizetti’s Anna Bolena

On Saturday, October 15, 2011, at 12:55 pm Eastern Time, the curtain will rise on Donizetti’s Anna Bolena in movie theaters across the country and the world. Gaetano Donizetti’s opera is the first in the 2011-12 season of Live in HD at the Met.

The opera is three and a half hours long, with one intermission between the two acts. It will be sung in Italian, with supertitles in English.

The story is a familiar one from English history. Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, has become displeasing to him. Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, has become Henry’s new lover-a lady-in-waiting to the king as well, if you will.


In Act I, Anne (Anna) is troubled, perhaps sensing the withdrawal of her husband’s affection, and Jane Seymour (Giovanna) feels guilty for betraying her queen, but it is too late now for her to change the situation.

The king calls Anne’s former lover, Lord Richard Percy (Riccardo), out of exile. King Henry (Enrico) plans to entrap Percy and Anne by putting them together, in order to have an excuse for getting rid of her, so he can marry Jane with impunity.

Anne’s page, Smeaton, is in love with the queen and comes to her apartments to return a miniature portrait of her that he has stolen. Anne and her brother Rochefort enter. Her brother persuades her to see Percy. When Percy enters, he avows his undying love for Anne, but she stands firm against this declaration.

Percy then pulls out his sword to kill himself. Henry VIII enters. Smeaton, the page, defends Anne’s innocence, but unfortunately, as he is doing this the miniature drops from his tunic, and his credibility is ruined. The king has Anne, Percy and Smeaton put under arrest.


Act II finds Anne imprisoned in her London apartments. Jane Seymour tells Anne that if she confesses her love for Percy, she will make it possible for the king to remarry, and will thus avoid being put to death.

But Anne refuses. She curses the new bride-to-be, and Jane confesses that it is she. Anne is shocked, but assigns the blame to the king, not Jane. Meanwhile Smeaton has tried to save Anne’s life by falsely confessing under torture that he is her lover.

Anne and Percy go before the council. She tells the king she is ready to die, but she asks to forgo the humiliation of a trial. Percy says that he and Anne were married before Anne was the wife of King Henry VIII.

Jane pleads with the king to spare Anne’s life-to no avail. Anne, Percy and Smeaton will all die.

Distraught to the point of madness, Anne remembers her wedding day, and she also remembers her love as a young girl for Richard Percy.

Wedding bells and cannon shots bring Anne Boleyn back to the reality that the king is now remarried, and she is going to die.


Anna Bolena is played in this production by the charismatic Russian soprano Anna Netrebko. Mezzo- soprano Ekaterina Gubanov, also Russian, plays Giovanna (Jane Seymour). Mark Smeaton is played by mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford (yes, a woman), Lord Richard Percy (Riccardo) by tenor Stephen Costello, and Henry VIII (Enrico) by Russian bass Ildar Abdrazakov.

Renee Fleming will add sparkle and depth to her role as host for this Live in HD performance. Ms. Fleming is a good interviewer, with such comfort in the opera house and with the singers that she elicits unusual tidbits worth listening for. Whether she chooses to remark on the preponderance of Russian singers in this Anna Bolena, or to examine the reasoning behind the use of a woman to play a man in a contemporary setting of the opera, remains to be seen. (These are nagging questions for some of us.)

But in any case, expect a great show!


Anna Bolena synopsis

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