Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux
After his first great success with Anna Bolena (1830), on the doomed second wife of Henry VIII, Gaetano Donizetti wrote two more operas on subjects drawn from English Tudor history: Maria Stuarda (1835), on the doomed Scottish queen, and Roberto Devereux (1837), on the Earl of Essex, the doomed favorite of Elizabeth I.1 Each had a different librettist: Felice Romani, the author of Anna Bolena, drew on two Italian plays about her; Maria Stuarda was adapted by Giuseppe Bardari from a play by Friedrich Schiller; and Salvadore Cammarano used French literary sources for Roberto Devereux.
If we think of them as a “Tudor trilogy” today, it is not because Donizetti conceived of them that way, but because Beverly Sills sang all three at the New York City Opera in the early 1970s. As the City Opera’s publicity-savvy star wrote in Beverly: An Autobiography (1987), her vocal coach, Roland Gagnon, “wanted me to become the first soprano in modern opera history ever to sing the three queens” and thus occupy her “own little niche in opera history.” Apparently they were unaware that the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer already occupied that particular niche in Europe, but Sills went her one better in 1974, singing all three in the same season at City Opera. (Despite her impressive voice and a distinguished career in Italy, where she was especially known for singing Donizetti roles, Gencer never sang at the Metropolitan Opera.)
Maria Stuarda arrived at the end of 2012 with Joyce DiDonato in the title role, and in the meantime the Met persuaded the American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky not only to star in its first Roberto Devereux in the spring of 2016 but also to sing all three during the 2015–2016 season. Other sopranos since Sills had sung all three, but no one had done them all in one season for the same…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.