Delusion and defiance reign in Anna Bolena

by C. I. Roman. 0 Comments

It's safe to say that Henry VIII was a tyrant. He was a big fan of capital punishment (especially with the wives), and he wasn't what one would call monogamous. The point is—the king who founded an entire religion simply to legitimize his many divorces was bad news.

Amidst all of the court intrigue and beheadings sat Anna Bolena. Before her execution she became the second queen consort of Henry and gave birth to a future queen: Elizabeth I. However, her inability to produce a male heir is ultimately what lost her favor with her husband and led to her ultimate demise.

Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti, a master of the late bel canto style captured a popular version of the queen's final days in his opera Anna Bolena, which was presented by the Kennedy Center this year.

The punishing title role of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” was brilliantly played by Sondra Radvanosky. The opera reminded me that you don’t need symbolism or political message to create a memorable musical experience.

With traditional staging, opulent period costumes and stark sets which took advantage of the chiaroscuro created by the lights and shadows let the audience focus completely on the singing of soprano Sondra Radvanosky. Vocally stunning, she sang elegantly sad aria with lustrous warmth and aching vulnerability.

The last scene (at least for me) was the high point of Ms. Radvanosky’s performance as the distraught British queen of Henry VIII. Having been falsely condemned for betraying her husband, Anna drifts in and out of sanity.

Anna is restored to horrific reality, curses the “wicked couple,” the king and his new queen, and stalks off to her execution, insisting implausibly that she is not seeking divine retribution but going to her grave with mercy on her lips.


Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for

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