Today we’re listening to…
“Al dolce guidami” a soprano aria from Act II of the Italian opera Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti. Anna Bolena is a tragic opera and the story of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII of England and mother of Queen Elizabeth I. First performed in 1830, the opera was forgotten for almost 50 years but was revived in 1957 at La Scala with Maria Callas. I have never heard a more beautiful melody than this one sung by Maria Callas—who embraces this character so fully and so ferociously. Every trill and vocal ornament here is done beautifully and flawlessly, each contributing to its intended dramatic end. In the works of Donizetti, a trill is not just two notes alternating rapidly; it's the vocal manifestation of longing, or love, or sorrow, or anger (such as you will hear here).
🎧 Listen here (4 minute listen):
Anna Bolena is the story of an unjustly sacrificed queen. While married to Anne, Henry VIII has started seeing Jane Seymour, a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn, in secret and he plots to remove Anne, his wife from the throne. He does this by bringing back Lord Percy, who Anne was previously forced to separate from to marry him (Henry VIII). He calls for Percy (who is still in love with Anne), back from exile, to figure out a way to set up a meeting between the two former lovers to get what he wants (Jane Seymour) and remove Anne from the picture. He takes the opportunity to unjustly accuse Anne, who will eventually be imprisoned and sentenced to death for treason. “Al dolce guidami” is Anne’s aria as she awaits her execution and remembers her childhood home and her early love for Percy.
Lead me to where I was born,
to the green trees,
to that brook that still
murmurs to our sighs...
there I forget past griefs;
give me back one day of my youth,
give me back one day of our love.
Want to know more?
The opera’s name, Anna Bolena (ah-na-bow-LAY-na), is the Italian translation of her name Anne Boleyn, hence the difference in spelling.
Gaetano Donizetti was the master of bel canto. Bel canto is a style of singing in Italian opera from the mid-18th to early 19th centuries (we touched on this in a previous post when discussing Joan Sutherland). Specific singers as well as composers became known for this style (the composers Gioachino Rossini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Vincenzo Bellini have been called the “three kings of bel canto”).
Donizetti had quite a life. At the age of nine, he started his musical training and throughout his life, composed 70 operas. Unfortunately, his life was also filled with tragedy. His wife, Virginia, and all three of their children preceded him in death. Some say you can hear that pain in his music.
Thank you for listening,