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Those Tudor Queens

It's the week for the Queens at the Met. Donizetti fed the European fascination with English royal tragedy, embellishing the real historical drama with fabulous bel canto music. His three operas were produced in seven years (1830-37) and this week we can hear them in three days, fired by performances of six extraordinary divas (yes six - there's always the Other Women, who of course are mezzo sopranos!)

The music attracted all the great sopranos, with Callas the ruling queen. And it gathers some of the Met's best in these productions.


We start, as it did, with Anne Boleyn (well she was Henry VIII’s unlucky second wife, but Donezetti passed over Catherine, whose story was just plain sad). In this 2011 production, Anna Netrebko made the part - and apparently turned down the other queen roles - listen to an extract here. It's a brilliant cast - Ekaterina Gubanova (as Jane Seymour), Stephen Costello (Lord Percy), Ildar Abdrazakov (Henry VIII).

Stephen Costello and Anna Netrebko, in “Anna Bolena”

Donizetti didn't design these three operas as a trilogy, rather picked up opportunistically (and of course embellished) the marvellous plots of royal shenanigans. Seen together, they're extraordinarily complex character operas, with a light relationship to history, but some stunning music, especially for the women, and some of his best representations of pathos and love. (And of course, these are wonderful operas to show the power of costume and sets to bring a plot alive - given enough money! Listen here to a discussion...)

There's some wonderful tenor parts here, but basically the three nights of opera are all about those six divas. Donizetti designed these operas to pit soprano against mezzo, and the Met has provided impressive pairs of voices and actors.

Anna (Netrebko) with Ekaterina Gubanova as Jane Seymour

After Anne (vs Jane), comes the story of Mary, Queen of Scots (vs Elizabeth) - and in this production, Joyce di Donato triumphs.

Elza van den Heever, left, as Queen Elizabeth I, and Joyce DiDonato as Mary, Queen of Scots

And then there's the fight over Roberto, Earl of Essex - pitting the older Elizabeth against a lady of the court, Sara.


Roberto's women: Elīna Garanča as Sara and Sondra Radvanovsky as Elizabeth I in Roberto Devereux

Lots more about the context and these operas on our 2016 website here.


The schedule for the week - Melbourne dates - is as follows. On the nominated day, the show is up from 9.30 overnight till 8.30am next day.) Just go to https://www.metopera.org/.

Tuesday, April 28 Donizetti’s Anna Bolena Starring Anna Netrebko, Ekaterina Gubanova (2011 production).

Wednesday, April 29 Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda Starring Elza van den Heever, Joyce DiDonato (2013 production).

Thursday, April 30 Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux Starring Sondra Radvanovsky, Elīna Garanča (2016 production).

(Radvanovsky went on to become the first soprano to sing all three queens in a (later) Met season. There's an intriguing interview with her here.)

Sondra Radvanovsky (L-R) as Anne Boleyn, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth I

If you have any opera energy left, for the rest of the week the Met offers:

Nico Muhly’s Marnie starring the brilliant Isabel Leonard (Friday May 1) and a historical gem from 1985 - Verdi’s Aida starring Leontyne Price (Saturday May 2 ).  

Sunday, May 3 Verdi’s Luisa Miller Starring Sonya Yoncheva, Piotr Beczała, and Plácido Domingo (from 2018).

Monday, May 4 Borodin’s Prince Igor Starring Oksana Dyka, Anita Rachvelishvili, and Ildar Abdrazakov, (from 2014).

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