Lyric Opera’s Anna Bolena Review – Heavenly Voices


Recently Adam Dahlgren reviewed the one night production of William Tell Teatro Reggio Torino  and concluded that: “If you wanted to see the best opera performance in Chicago this season, you may have missed your chance.”  That can’t be the case while the Lyric Opera of Chicago performances of Anna Bolena continue on December 9, 15, Jan. 7, 10, and 16 at 7:30pm; and Dec. 12 and 21at 2pm. With music by Gaetano Donizetti and libretto by Felice Romani, it will totally engage you.  


Lyric Opera has performed Anna Bolena only once before and that was in 1985.  This production, being part of Lyric’s 60 year celebration is a must see because chances are good you won’t have another opportunity to see this for some time.  From the pre-opera lecture until the last note sung by Sondra Radvanovsky, I was spellbound. 


The opera curtain sets the tone, all black with a simple Tudor rose in the center.  The time of the English Tudors is fascinating and filled with the makings for drama.  This was the first of four operas inspired by historical figures of that time written by Donezetti who was fascinated with the Tudor period in history.


The amazing voices, powerful acting, unusual stage design, lighting, costumes and the orchestra work together to produce a dramatic, powerful and memorable experience. This new Lyric Opera of Chicago production by Kevin Newbury conducted by Patrick Summer is the Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848) telling of the Tudor tragedy Anna Bolena.  


This opera was the first great success of Donizetti’s career.  Anna Bolena is one of the glories of the bel canto repertoire. Bel canto means “beautiful singing,”  and Bel Canto specialists were Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. Follows in the footsteps of other “Anna’s” that include Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Leyla Gencer, and Beverly Sills is our current "Anna", Sondra Radvanovsky.


Roger Pines in his article, Anna Bolena: The History in Opera Notes, points out that ,“It is, above all, Anne herself who accounts for the success of the operatic reatelling of her story.  Donizetti’s Anne is one of the most formidable prima donna roles in bel canto. The piece abounds in opportunities for her to “take the stage”; in scene after scene she can communicate an overwhelming dramatic presence, and in terms of vocalism, she can exhibit extraordinary elegance and sensitivity as well as bravura.”  Sondra Radvanovsky, totally took charge of this role and is a tour de force.


This telling of Anne Boleyn’s story begins at the point where her marriage to of England’s King Henry VIII (bass-baritone John Relyea) is beginning to unravel.  She shares with her confidant, Jane Seymour, (mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton) that there is another woman in the king’s life and that the king hates her.  When Jane reveals that she is that woman, Anne is at first furious and then supportive, now placing the blame for this on the king. The duet between these women is very beautiful and so moving.

As the story continues the page Smeton (mezzo-soprano Kelley O’Connor)who secretly loves Anne is tricked into stating that Anne has engaged in questionable behavior.  Learning that Anne is to be jailed, Richard Percy (tenor Bryan Hymel, debut) declares his undying love for Anne, thinking to support her.  The most exquisite aria expresses this.  Anne and Henry’s very young daughter, a very young little girl, enters the story briefly and heightens sympathy for Anne.  You probably know the ending but seeing it on stage is an experience not to be missed.


This production of Anna Bolena (first seen at Minnesota Opera) is inspired by the design and silhouettes of the period seen through a more modern lens. The sets coming down from the ceiling and up from the floor lent to the drama of the story.


Nearly all members of the artistic team for this production will be making Lyric Opera debuts: conductor Patrick Summers, director Kevin Newbury, set designer Neil Patel, costume designer Jessica Jahn, and lighting designer D. M. Wood. The chorus master is Michael Black.


The voices were so beautiful, heavenly really, that I didn’t want the arias to end but when they did, there was thunderous applause.  Don’t let the opportunity to enjoy this opera slip away.


Coproduction of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Minnesota Opera.

Anna Bolena is sung in Italian with projected English texts.

For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go the Lyric website Learn more about this production here  Follow the conversation on Twitter: #LyricBolena.

See more


Photos: Todd Rosenberg unless otherwise noted.


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