The Three Donizetti Queens: Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart and Roberto Devereux
In the first half of the 19th century, Italy was a divided country, and it’s not a surprise that English monarch history fascinated audiences and a composer like Donizetti was attracted to stories of Tudor England. Donizetti's trilogy of Tudor queens consists of three operas about Elizabeth I's life and times in the bel canto style: Anna Bolena (1830), Maria Stuarda (1834), and Roberto Devereux (1837).
Anna Bolena is a tragic opera in two acts composed by Gaetano Donizetti. Felice Romani wrote the Italian libretto after Ippolito Pindemonte's Enrico VIII ossia Anna Bolena and Alessandro Pepoli's Anna Bolena, both recounting the life of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of England's King Henry VIII and future mother of Queen Elizabeth I. While married to Anne, Henry VIII has fallen in love with Giovanna (Jane) Seymour, lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn. To get rid of her, he devises a plan to accuse her of treason and have her executed. Anna Bolena premiered on 26 December 1830 at the Teatro Carcano in Milan, to overwhelming success.
The tragic opera in two acts of Maria Stuarda focuses on the rivalry between Mary Stuart and Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth I. The Italian libretto was written by Giuseppe Bardari, based on Andrea Maffei's translation of Friedrich Schiller's 1800 play Maria Stuart. Roberto, Earl of Leicester, with whom Elisabeth is secretly in love, wants to help Mary, to whom he declares his love and proposes marriage to her. He advises Mary to be conciliatory towards her powerful cousin. But the two queens face off at a meeting whose violence leads Elisabeth to sign the death warrant for Mary, who has publicly insulted her. The cruelty of Elisabeth, devoured by jealousy, extends to demanding that Roberto attend her rival’s execution.
Roberto Devereux opens with an overture featuring the tune of “God Save the Queen.” The last opera of the trilogy portrays the sad relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex. Salvadore Cammarano wrote the Italian libretto after François Ancelot's tragedy Elisabeth d'Angleterre (1829), and based as well on the Historie secrete des amours d'Elisabeth et du comte d'Essex (1787) by Jacques Lescène des Maisons. It is about the end of Elizabeth’s life, now tired of her facade of royalty and nobility. The opera is loosely based on the life of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, an influential member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England.