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Lyric Opera of Chicago on WRTI: Donizetti's Bel Canto Gem, ANNA BOLENA, June 6, 1 PM

Todd Rosenberg
Soprano Sondra Radvanovsky sings the title role in Donizetti's ANNA BOLENA

Doomed queen…tour-de-force drama! Anne Boleyn may be Queen of England, but she doesn't stand a chance. Henry VIII wants her gone — with Jane Seymour taking her place on the throne and in his bed. And Henry's minions do the dirty work, finding "proof" of Anne's infidelities.

Donizetti exploits all of the glories of the human voice in this bel canto gem and trailblazes with a theatricality that hadn't been seen in opera before. Listen to vocal fireworks and watch one of opera's most gripping confrontations: the Queen rages when she finally discovers that Jane is her arch rival, and Jane is haunted by guilt — desperate to marry the King, yet knowing that she's the reason he'll send Anne to the scaffold.

Maria Callas and Joan Sutherland made this opera famous—and today Sondra Radvanovsky makes it her own. Listen to Gaetano Donizetti's Bel Canto gem, ANNA BOLENA on WRTI, June 6, 1 to 4:30 pm.

Jane Seymour:  Jamie Barton
Smeton:  Kelley O’Connor
Anne Boleyn:  Sondra Radvanovsky
King Henry VIII:  John Relyea
Lord Rochford:  Richard Ollarsaba
Lord Richard Percy:  Bryan Hymel
Lord Hervey:  John Irvin
CONDUCTOR:  Patrick Summers
DIRECTOR:  Kevin Newbury
CHORUS:  Lyric Opera Chorus
CHORUS MASTER:  Michael Black

From the Lyric Opera of Chicago website:

Bel canto! It means literally “beautiful singing,” and we think of it whenever Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti come to mind. During the first half of the 19th century, they gave the world operas that are – in the words of conductor Patrick Summers (who leads Donizetti’s Anna Bolena at Lyric this season) – “celebrations of the great life-force of the human voice.”

When you experience Anna Bolena, what exactly will you be hearing? Fabulously beautiful sounds, of course, but in this opera, a beautiful voice is just the beginning; in this music written to glorify singers, the voice must be the most personal and deeply expressive of all instruments, shaping phrases with incredible sensitivity and elegance, as if they were being molded by a great sculptor.

Although Anna Bolena’s reason for being is the voice, it also brings an endlessly fascinating period of history to life on the operatic stage. We’ve got Henry VIII and the second of his six wives, the hapless Anne Boleyn, and they’re emoting to music of magnificent beauty and theatrical power.

Anne is one of the great diva roles in bel canto – a desperately unhappy queen whose music goes straight to the listener’s heart. Of the two mezzo-sopranos, the ardent Smeton (a “trouser role” – a young man, but sung by a female voice) is the court musician who begins the opera by singing Anne a sweet, lilting lute song. He later gets a captivating showpiece aria, inspired by his love for her. Jane Seymour, Anne’s rival for Henry’s love, is a much more dramatic-voiced lady; there’s an anguish that comes through all her music, and she, too, gets spectacular vocal fireworks: her big scene ends with stunningly fast, high, aggressive singing, a guaranteed showstopper.

Henry, our bass, doesn’t get an aria, surprisingly enough (considering this is the great Henry VIII, after all!), but Donizetti gives all his music the kind of majesty that lets you know from the word “go” that this is a KING. Anne’s first love, Richard Percy, has two arias, each a gift to any honey-voiced lyric tenor. In his cabaletta – the faster, showier second half of his big scene – Donizetti gives him two chances to sail thrillingly up to high C.

But it’s Anne who ends the opera, and with a vocally stupendous, dramatically heartbreaking tour de force. She begins with something approaching a mad scene, then takes the lead in a ravishingly beautiful quartet (in case you’re up on old British songs, this music is taken from a gem of 1823, “Home, Sweet Home”), and then she lets go in a final slashing, pile-driving aria before going off to her execution.