Small picture of Donizetti



ANNA BOLENA – A Review in THE TIMES, 9th JuIy 1831

This article appeared in Newsletter 14, June 1977.

A new tragic opera, in two acts, by Donizetti, called "Anna Bolena”, was last night performed at The King’s Theatre for the benefit of Madame Pasta. After mentioning the title it would, perhaps, be unnecessary to say much of the dramatic plot, had the author of the libretto thought proper to confine himself to historical truth. His story begins with that period of the unfortunate Queen’ s life when the capricious sensualist Henry had resolved to get rid of her at any rate; but the incidents are so twisted as to give a colouring of justice to the tyranny of the brutal King. Lord R. Percy (Signor Rubini) continues to indulge an ardent passion for Anna Boleyn (Madame Pasta) after his return to Henry’s court, and he takes every opportunity of declaring it to her. Anna is far from encouraging Percy’s suit, who, in a moment of despair is about to strike himself with his sword, when Smeaton (Mademoiselle Beck) a young page of the Queen, who is also in love with her, rushes from behind a curtain where he had concealed himself on the Queen’s and Percy’s approach, and in attempting to prevent the latter from committing the desperate deed, draws Percy's fury on himself, and has recourse to his own sword for his defence. At this moment Henry enters, and finding swords drawn in the presence of the Queen, suspects her of being the cause, and by charging her with having betrayed him elicits enough from all the parties to think himself justified in resolving upon the destruction of Anna. The King, who has for some time now been in love with Jane Seymour (Madame Gay) , hastens the trial of his consort, for the purpose of obtaining speedy possession of the hand of Jane; but Anna dies in the hands of her attendants, when about to be led to execution. The story, allowing for the falsification of history, is well arranged, and told in fluent language, and good verses.

There is a great deal of good music in this opera, and the hand of a master is visible throughout; but imperfections are also abundant. In some parts Rossinian recollections have strongly prevailed; and in others Bellini’s Pirata has supplied the model. There is also an imitation of the well known Tyrolese air, to which Mademoiselle Sontag gave so much celebrity by singing it with variations, in the lines sung by Anna in the 3rd scene of the last act, beginning with the words “Ah! se mai di reggio soglio”; and in the very last scene of the opera, is assigned to the same personage, in the prayer, “Cielo a’miei lunghi spasimi”. Three arias belonging to the part of Percy were sung by Signor Rubini with great effect. The first, which occurs at the close of the seventh scene, has a noisy instrumental introduction, buts this is proceeded by a very pleasing melody: the other two rapidly follow each other in the 10th scene of the 2nd act, and are both very delightful compositions. Signor Rubini was encored in one of them. Of Madame Pasta’s acting in this opera, it is hardly possible to speak in adequate terms. After witnessing her Medea, her Semiramide, her Desdemona, her Mary Stuart and her Nina, it appeared hardly possible that any new scope could be afforded to her talents. In Anna Boleyn, all the excellencies which have distinguished her personation of those different characters are combined. The energy of Medea, the dignity of Semiramide, the tender pathos of Desdemona, the profound affliction of Mary Stuart, and that fascinating listlessness which forms the charm of her mad scene in Nina, were all displayed by turns in situations which the author of the libretto appears to have formed expressly for her. Her vocal powers were less called into requisition than her histrionic talents. A great deal of declamatory music is assigned to her part, which she gave with admirable force and expression but she had little in the shape of a cavatina besides the prayer on "Home Sweet Home” , which has been noticed above. Madame Gay appeared for the first time in this country as Jane Seymour. She is a tall and good-looking person, who has evidently had some experience of the stage. On first corning out, she seemed to labour under the influence of fear, but she soon regained her self-possession, and went through her part in a very creditable manner. Her voice is a soprano of a pure and pleasing quality, and her style of singing is extremely tasteful. Signor Lablache was the representative of Henry; .in some respects the part suited him well, but generally the Kingly honours sat ill upon him, and it was evident that he has studied the mode of wielding a sceptre with as much attention as the peculiarities of deafness in old age. After the opera Madame Pasta was loudly called for, and on her re-appearance, she was greeted with applause, cheers, and waving of hats and handkerchiefs from all parts of the house.