Anna Bolena Synopsis

The Story of Donizetti's Opera, Anna Bolena

Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848)
Gaetano Donizetti (1797 - 1848). Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Composer: Gaetano Donizetti

Premiered: December 26, 1830 - Teatro Carcano, Milan

Other Popular Opera Synopses:
Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Mozart's The Magic Flute, Verdi's Rigoletto, & Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Setting of Anna Bolena:
Donizetti's Anna Bolena takes place in England during the 16th century.

The Story of Anna Bolena

Anna Bolena, ACT 1
Within the queen's chambers at the castle, Queen Anna has become aware her star is dimming as King Henry VIII is falling in love with another woman. Queen Anna calls in her confidante and lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, to vent her frustrations. Queen Anna's countenance and sad demeanor have affected all those in her chamber, so she orders her page, Smeton, to play a song on the harp to cheer everyone's mood. After the song, everyone leaves, except for Jane. Not long after, King Henry VIII enters and tells Jane that his love for her grows stronger and that she will be at his side at the altar in due time. When King Henry leaves, Jane grows weary of her decision and how it will affect the queen. However, she decides that their affair has gone too far to stop it now.

The next day, Queen Anna's brother, Lord Rochefort, rides through Richmond Park and happens across Queen Anna's former lover, Lord Richard Percy. Surprised, Rochefort asks Percy why he has returned. Percy replies that it was the king himself who called him back from exile. Percy questions Rochefort about Queen Anna's happiness after he heard rumors of the deteriorating state of their relationship. Rochefort somewhat dodges the question but tells him that love is often never a part of royal marriages.

Back in Queen Anna's chambers, Smeton, who has fallen in love with the queen, has stolen a small portrait of her and has come back to return it. Before he can put back the portrait, he hears a noise outside of her chamber and hides behind a screen. Queen Anna enters with her brother, Rochefort. Rochefort asks Queen Anna to give a moment of her time for Percy. She agrees, which catches Smeton's attention. He eavesdrops on their conversation since he cannot escape without being caught. When Rochefort leaves, Percy enters the room. Percy tells Queen Anna that he knows she is unhappy. She tells him that the king has grown to loathe her. Percy confesses he still has strange feelings for her and asks her to leave with him. When she refuses, Percy draws his sword and attempts to kill himself. When Queen Anna shouts, Smeton thinks that Percy is attacking her, so he jumps out from behind the screen. Percy turns his sword to Smeton and the two start to fight. Not long into their fight, King Henry VIII and his men burst into the room. The king orders their arrest, but Smeton pleads Queen Anna's innocence. He tells the king that he can stab him in the heart if he is lying and rips open his tunic. When he does, the small portrait of Anna falls to the king's feet. Happily, the king finds proof for condemning Queen Anna and sends them all to jail.

Anna Bolena, ACT 2

King Henry VIII has imprisoned Queen Anna in her London apartment. Jane arrives to help the queen escape her impending execution, and tells her that if she confesses her love for Percy, the king will grant her freedom, giving him cause for divorce. This is all the king wants. Queen Anna, loyal to her duties and marriage oath, refuses and wishes her successor a crown of thorns. Jane, full of guilt, reveals that she is the king's secret lover. Queen Anna is furious but finally calms down when Jane convinces her that the king is the guilty one.

Hoping to save the queen, Smeton falsely testifies that he has had relations with her. Unknowingly, Smeton sets the queen's fate in stone. Percy and Anna are brought into the antechamber separately. Percy claims that he and Anna were married prior to her marriage with the king, but the king does not believe him. Anna pleads with the king to keep this news from the public eye but is ready to give up her life. Jane fights for Queen Anna's life, but the king ignores her. King Henry VIII dismisses everyone and the council decides to execute all three of them as well as dissolving the king's marriage to Anna.

Within Queen Anna's cell, her stress and grief have caused her to go mad. She deliriously recalls her past memories with Percy. Percy and Smeton are brought into her cell and Smeton begs for her forgiveness. She looks down at Smeton in bewilderment and asks him why he isn't playing his music. Moments later, the sound of the cannons is heard, signaling the king's new marriage. Queen Anna snaps out of her temporary madness and curses the king. Full of pride, she marches to her execution with her head held high.