Anna Bolena premiered in 1830 and was Donizetti’s first great success–and it remains one of his finest works. Aside from his usual endless fount of melodies, we find through-composed scenes wherein recitative seamlessly melds into arioso and into aria or ensemble. Anna manages to come across as a real character, as does the unfortunate Jane Seymour, who has the (bad) luck to be Henry VIII’s new love; and Henry’s music, too, is composed effectively for this royal villain. Less successfully portrayed but still with a couple of fine arias and some stunning ensemble music is Anna’s brother Percy. He’s an earthbound character but his music is wonderful and difficult (it was composed for the legendary Rubini).
Ever since the operas of Handel started to return to the stage in the 1920s, Giulio Cesare has been one of the pieces held in high regard. Always known by name through the most famous of Cleopatra’s arias (”V’adoro, pupille” and “Piangerò la sorte mia”) and often produced successfully in Germany, it has gathered a reputation as the best of the composer’s operas-the reasons for which can now be verified by anyone who acquires RCA Victor’s current release of the highly successful New York City Opera production.
The recording-the first opera to be taped in New York for longer than local musicians care to remember-is the City Opera’s production in every detail. Unless I am mistaken, the orchestra has been augmented at one or two points, but the cast is identical with that of the production’s opening night, and the conductor is none other than the company’s director, Julius Rudel. The performance makes an excellent case both for the opera and for the company.