Opera Daily 🎶 — Anna Bolena & the Magical Sitzprobe
The sitzprobe always feels like a lovely oasis in the middle of a marathon sprint to opening night
One of the most exciting moments in the making of any opera is the sitzprobe (ZITZ-proh-buh). You might also hear people refer to this rehearsal as the “sitz”. This rehearsal sees the orchestra and singers come together for the first time and play through the score. The attention is on integrating the two groups. The singers get to sit (or stand) and just sing! The sitz is a magical moment in the process, and the below clip proves that.
🎧 Listening Example (2 minute listen): Clip from Met Opera rehearsal (Sitzprobe), Fall 2015, Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti, Sondra Radvanovsky (Anna Bolena), Stephen Costello (Lord Percy), Ildar Abdrazakov (Enrico VIII), Milijana Nikolic (Giovanna Seymour), Tamara Mumford (Smeton), Marco Armiliato, conductor
This is our first time to meet the orchestra, and we rehearse with no movement – simply singing. I’ve often mentioned that this rehearsal is my favorite – after weeks of sweating it out in the rehearsal room, running and diving and being tossed around, we get to come back to JUST the music and create a chamber environment with the orchestra. It’s heaven.
— Joyce DiDonato
Now that you’ve seen what Anna Bolena is like in the rehearsal room let’s learn more about this opera and take it to the stage.
Donizetti’s Anna Bolena is based loosely on the last days of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England and 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 annul their marriage and make way for Jane to become his third wife, Henry VIII stages a conspiracy involving Anne’s former lover, Lord Richard Percy. In the end, Anne is sentenced to death after a rigged trial.
Anna Bolena was Donizetti's first major hit, though he had already composed around 30 operas. In 1957, Anna Bolena was revived at La Scala with soprano Maria Callas. In the following excerpt of the Act I finale, Callas does an incredible job of conveying her anger and surprise at Enrico’s accusation of her infidelity (which of course, is false because he made it up!). Although there is no footage of Callas performing the role, her voice conveys so much, that one doesn’t need to see her to imagine how she might have acted on stage.
🎧 Listening Example (8 minute listen): Act I Finale (Judgement Scene) from Anna Bolena sung here by soprano Maria Callas
This last scene is probably the most famous scene from the opera. The “mad scene” is a staple of 19th-century operas, with Donizetti and Bellini leading the charge, representing pain and mental struggle through musical means. In this scene, Anne is in prison and has gone mad. In her cell, a chorus of ladies comments on her grief. Anna enters and asks them, “Are you weeping?”, "Piangete voi?" She imagines that it is her wedding day to the king. Then she imagines that she sees Percy and asks him to take her back to her childhood home. (“Al dolce guidami castel natio . . .”)
The opera’s most famous passage, without doubt, is the final cabaletta for soprano, “Coppia iniqua.”
🎧 Listening Example (2 minute listen): Sondra Radvanovsky sings “Coppia iniqua” at the final dress rehearsal of Donizetti's Anna Bolena, Production, David McVicar, Conductor, Marco Armiliato, The Metropolitan Opera, 2015–16 season
These serious Donizetti operas (opera seria) are incredibly hard to cast. They require singers who can sing with the agility necessary, as well as the power to sing these big dramatic legato (smooth and flowing) moments. To get a sense of what’s required from the singers, listen to this masterclass with soprano Angela Kim working with opera director, conductor, and vocal coach, John Fisher on one of the arias from Anna Bolena.
Questions? Comments on what goes into the process of making opera? Leave a comment, and we can discuss!
Thank you for reading (and listening),
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