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on November 6, 2015
If you have to have just one Anna Bolena - or, indeed any Anna Bolena, this is the one to have, hands down, no contest. Sills is absolutely astounding as Anna. Recorded in 1973, this edition captured Sills in her peak years. The rest of the cast is quite splendid too, being a who's who of top singers from that period. And let's not forget the conductor here, the estimable, and much underrated Julius Rudel, for many years the music director here in NYC of the now, mostly defunct (sadly), NYC Opera - the once worthy rival of The Met, across the plaza at Lincoln Center. Rudel, who worked well with singers and was a master at holding an opera together and keeping it moving right along, was a long time colleague of Sills at NYC Opera, and made many fine recordings with her too. The LSO and the John Alldis Chorus do their usual, lovely work here.
Excellent stereo sound with good balancing of singers,orchestra and chorus. A128 page booklet with the complete libretto (Italian & English), copious notes and artists' bios is included with this edition.
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on August 29, 2014
The first time I heard of Beverly Sills was probably on the Tonight Show. The first time I heard her sing was a radio broadcast from the New York City opera. The first time I was privileged to see her on stage was at the San Diego Opera in the early 1980's' when, in addition to obvious vocal talent, her skill as an actress was apparent. I would not presume to critique or describe her amazing talent. For anyone who heard her sing my words are inadequate.

The first recording I owned was "The Three Queens" on an 8-track tape because there was no such thing as a CD, DVD, or even VHS(yes, I'm THAT old). I listened to this recording on my 45-minute drive to work. Even my teenaged children listened to this when they weren't listening to Pink Floyd or Crosby, Stills, and Nash. We educated each other on the fine points of our choices. A pleasing moment for me was when my son asked if he could go see one of the operas in the Wagner Ring Cycle at the Seattle Opera! After all, I was listening to Eric Carmen, C,S,& N and LIKING it!

When and if the two other operas ("Maria Stuarta" and "Roberto Devereux")are on CD, I shall purchase those as well.
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on December 14, 2015
This is a fantastic opera, Beverly Sills is terrific.If you are a serious collector get one copy of this wonderful opera before it is too late.
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I am posting this review under several, various issues of this 1972 classic as I have owned or heard it in various incarnations but have invariably found it to be in good sound whatever the label. It originally appeared under ABC but is now Universal (DG/Decca), the big difference being that the one with the green DG cover includes a libretto, whereas the others do not.

It is the best version available if you discount Callas - which you can't, and if you do want her account, make sure you avoid the shocking EMI "official" issue and get the Opera d'Oro set (see my review), which despite being heavily cut and featuring a merely mediocre cast apart from Simionato and Callas herself is preferable to EMI's woolly effort by virtue of being far cheaper and in greatly superior sound quality. However, if you want the full score, this version, ably, flexibly and idiomatically conducted by Julius Rudel, is first choice.

It was Donizetti's first big success and already evinces his trademark qualities of acute musical characterisation and the winning combination of floating cantilena lines alternating with passages of great drama. The cast is exclusively Anglophone: four Brits and three Americans - and an English orchestra in the ever-accomplished LSO - but it is not short on Italianità, even if Stuart Burrows' tenor is a little soft-grained and Paul Plishka's Henry a bit woolly. However, Plishka makes the king a growling, brooding brute, which is wholly apt; Burrows' beautiful tenor is both agile and suggestive of an essentially sympathetic personality in Percy. Patricia Kern's rich, steady mezzo is lovely as Smeton and the young Robert Lloyd's sonorous bass is sufficiently imposing to suggest that he might have been a vocally more ingratiating Henry than Plishka. Some harshness in the higher regions apart, Shirley Verrett's makes a highly dramatic Giovanna (Jane Seymour); pace a previous reviewer, I don't think she would have made a success of the role of Anna. We may safely entrust that to Sills in this form.

Some reviewers have remarked how we might be conscious of the fact that she is pushing her voice to its limits, to which I say, of course - this is an incredibly demanding role which requires her to encompass a huge gamut of emotions within an equally wide tessitura from to E flat down to a trenchant chest voice - which she manages to her great credit. Her coloratura sparkles and she creates real pathos in the plangent, drooping melody of "Ai dolci guidami"; the ascending trills are precise and exquisite, her intonation spot-on; there is very little shrillness in a voice caught still in its prime before the toll of singing the Queens became apparent. Show me a singer alive today who can rival her.

Shop around for an affordable set; the Brilliant issue is usually the cheapest if you can do without a libretto.
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I am posting this review under several, various issues of this 1972 classic as I have owned or heard it in various incarnations but have invariably found it to be in good sound whatever the label. It originally appeared under ABC but is now Universal (DG/Decca), the big difference being that the one with the green DG cover includes a libretto, whereas the others do not.

It is the best version available if you discount Callas - which you can't, and if you do want her account, make sure you avoid the shocking EMI "official" issue and get the Opera d'Oro set (see my review), which despite being heavily cut and featuring a merely mediocre cast apart from Simionato and Callas herself is preferable to EMI's woolly effort by virtue of being far cheaper and in greatly superior sound quality. However, if you want the full score, this version, ably, flexibly and idiomatically conducted by Julius Rudel, is first choice.

It was Donizetti's first big success and already evinces his trademark qualities of acute musical characterisation and the winning combination of floating cantilena lines alternating with passages of great drama. The cast is exclusively Anglophone: four Brits and three Americans - and an English orchestra in the ever-accomplished LSO - but it is not short on Italianità, even if Stuart Burrows' tenor is a little soft-grained and Paul Plishka's Henry a bit woolly. However, Plishka makes the king a growling, brooding brute, which is wholly apt; Burrows' beautiful tenor is both agile and suggestive of an essentially sympathetic personality in Percy. Patricia Kern's rich, steady mezzo is lovely as Smeton and the young Robert Lloyd's sonorous bass is sufficiently imposing to suggest that he might have been a vocally more ingratiating Henry than Plishka. Some harshness in the higher regions apart, Shirley Verrett's makes a highly dramatic Giovanna (Jane Seymour); pace a previous reviewer, I don't think she would have made a success of the role of Anna. We may safely entrust that to Sills in this form.

Some reviewers have remarked how we might be conscious of the fact that she is pushing her voice to its limits, to which I say, of course - this is an incredibly demanding role which requires her to encompass a huge gamut of emotions within an equally wide tessitura from to E flat down to a trenchant chest voice - which she manages to her great credit. Her coloratura sparkles and she creates real pathos in the plangent, drooping melody of "Ai dolci guidami"; the ascending trills are precise and exquisite, her intonation spot-on; there is very little shrillness in a voice caught still in its prime before the toll of singing the Queens became apparent. Show me a singer alive today who can rival her.

Shop around for an affordable set; the Brilliant issue is usually the cheapest if you can do without a libretto.
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on April 17, 2006
I, being a great admirer of Callas, Caballe', Sutherland, and Sills, cannot understand why people so vehemently bash one of them in favor of the other. This does nothing to further the interest of music, and it reduces great operatic singing to the level of ice hockey. "Anna Bolena" is an opera that requires a very special type of soprano. It is, essentially, a florid bel canto opera for a considerably heavier voice than that associated with such bel canto heroines such as those encountered in "Puritani", "Sonnambula", and "Lucia". A great "Anna Bolena" should also be able to command Norma and Rossini's "Semiramide". Beverly Sills had a basically small voice, and she herself has admitted repeatedly that her undertaking Donizetti's Three Queens (Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Elizabeth in "Roberto Devereux) probably shortened her career by a decade. She was, of course, right. She certainly makes Anna Bolena a convincing vocal creation, and she sings with great conviction and involvement. But even so, there are moments when you know that she's pushing her resources to the virtual end of their endurance. She manufactures low chest tones that are completely out of allignment with the rest of her voice, and some of her top notes are nothing more than pitched screams. Of course, her passion and sincerity compensates for a lot of these deficiencies, and she emerges with a great success. I respect Sills, and have always felt that she was a little undone by her publicity machine, as well as the constant shadows of Callas, Sutherland, and Caballe. Truth to tell, all three had voices far more suited to these heavier bel canto roles. I'm not going to enter any fray and state any opinions here. Beverly Sills put forth a tremendous amount of skill and effort into roles like Anna Bolena, and she paid a vocal price, as one can hear on this recording. Still, I wouldn't be without this performance. Shirley Verrett is an outstanding Jane Seymour (she certainly could have sung Anna Bolena!), though I'm not sure that she and Sills blend all that well together. Whatever the case, let's give all these great sopranos a break and stop bashing them. My message to the bashers is: Callas, Sills, Caballe' & Sutherland have BEEN there and made it. What have YOU accomplished?
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on January 30, 2003
In 1973, soprano Beverly Sills, tenor Stuart Burrows, Paul Plishka (baritone) and Shirley Verrett (mezzo-dramatic soprano), joined talents to make a powerfully dramatic opera about the tragedy of Anne Boylen at the hands of Henry the 8th. It was a great success in the New York City Opera and to this day, no other operatic forces have since rivaled them.
Donizetti's first big hit was the tragic opera, Anna Bolena (Anne Boylen), which successfully won the hearts of European audiences in the first half of the 19th century. The story is taken from the historical accounts of Anne Boylen, second wife of Henry the 8th, who divorced Katherine of Aragon in order to make Anne his queen. His attempt to make a bloodline of heirs failed because Anne could not bear him children. The only child successfully born to them was Elizabeth I, England's greatest queen. But at the time, Henry 8th was furious at Anne, accusing her of adultery and sentencing her to death. The truth was another matter. Whether or not Anne Boylen was guilty of adultery is still a mystery. But we do know that Henry the 8th was already preparing to marry Jane Seymour. In the Donizetti opera, the trials and tribulations of this particular moment in English history is thoroughly captured through rousing choruses and powerful ensembles, romantic duets, melancholic arias and a climatic finale.
Mezzo-soprano Shirley Verrett, also acclaimed as a dramatic soprano, makes a remarkable performance as the newfound love of Henry the 8th, the lady Jane Seymour. Her arias are chalk-full of light and dark qualities, as we realize how conflicted she truly is. As the rival to Anne Boylen, she does not feel herself as her enemy and truly sympathizes with her tragic situation. Her opening aria "Ella di me sollecita" reveals her regret in awakening Henry 8ths love. It is apparent that Henry 8th seduced her and fed her ambition to become queen, as she reveals in her aria "La Mia Fama". Shirley Verret's noble character is at paar with Beverly Sill's portrayal as Anne. Anne and Jane Seymour even speak as friends, albeit their situation and this is apparent in their duet in Act 2. Jane tries in vain to stop Anne's execution, begging the obstinate king Henry to have mercy on Anne (A pensate que rivolti). Tenor Stuart Burrows's performance is Shakespearean. As Anne's lawful first husband, Richard Percy, he delivers a performance which characterizes his love for Anne (S'ei t'aborre) and his despair at the dark tragedy ahead. As soon as Henry 8th discovers that Anne and Percy were married, he is bent on revenge and sentences Anne, Percy and the musician, Smeton, to death. Smeton (mezzo soprano Patricia Kern in a trouser role) is convincing a harp player who is genuinely and unfulfillably in love with Anne. The choruses and ensembles are effectively dramatic also. Examples of fine quartets and trios include the sextet "Questo di per noi spuntato"(Anne, Percy wonder about their fate before the day is over during a fox hunt) and the dramatic "Quanto, Quanto e funesto il tu dono (How tragic your gift is) which encompasses the despair that Percy and Anne feel when Henry discovers they are married and sentences them both to die.
Outstanding is bass baritone Paul Plishka as the raging, vengeful Henry 8th, whose sheer cruelty and treatment of Anne makes him one of opera's nastiest villains, right alongside Scarpia in Puccini's Tosca. Musically speaking, Henry 8th has no well constructed aria to showcase his baritone voice. He does this mostly through recitatives and his duet with Jane Seymour (Si, l'avrete). He is at his nastiest when he condemns Anne, Percy and others to die (Caldra! Coppia rea! Salira D'Ingliterra sul trono otra dona (It shall fall upon the guilty couple! England will have a new queen!). Finally, Beverly Sills delivers an unsurpassed and dramatic performance as Anne Boylen, the most varied character in the opera. Tragic, emotional, romantic, innocent, and ultimately driven to the point of insanity, she conveys everything about the Donizetti heroine in a single opera, albeit a long one.
Her yearning for that innocent time she fell in love with Percy is described in her lyric aria "Come un innocente giovine", and her warning to Jane Seymour of disaster in the coloratura showpiece "Non va sguardo". The greatest moments for her dramatically and vocally come toward the last minutes of the opera. Most impressive of all is Anna's Mad Scene. Donizetti must have had Anna Bolena's fatal demise in mind when he composed Lucia Di Lammermoor years later. An early "Mad Scene" is perfectly forged in Anna's own Mad Scene in the prison tower as she awaits her execution. After a solemn entrance (Piangete voi) she hallucinates in delirious madness that she is being married to Henry 8th all over again. She wistfully remembers her native home and longs to return to that carefree time (Al dolce guidami). Although she is aware that her death is inevitable, she prays her soul will rest in peace (Cielo, a mie lunghi spasimi). These lyric, melancholy arias are underscored by terrific flute and oboe passages, and even contain the theme "Home Sweet Home." When Anne sees that Henry is marrying Jane, she again plunges into madness and fury (Copia Iniquia), in a closing aria that is full of fiery dramatic vocals. Beverly Sills proved to the world how bel canto and coloratura arias are not just pretty parlor pieces, but contain great power as drama if the text and words are effectively inflected. The music also plays a great role, as it graphically depicts a vast range of emotions. Thus, Anna Bolena made opera truly the most human art form, combining great drama and beautiful singing.
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on March 4, 2003
Beverly Sills is so astounding in this role! She is the greatest Anna on records. She gives so much of herself in this role. Her duet with Giovanna Seymour is fantastic. She overcomes the limitations of her light voice by phrasing Anna's words with the sheer weight of gravity itself. Hei-Kyung Hong could learn a thing or two about effective phrasing for a light voice, as her duet from "Belleza Vocale" clearly shows. Sills shows marvelous nuances in her masterful vocal acting, especially in the aforementioned duet. Really, Sills' vocal inflections and accents are magnificent. Sills is marvelous, especially in Anna's Mad Scene. Whenever she digs into her barely there chest register, she makes a lasting impression. Anna's penitence, nostalgia, anger, and insanity are gloriously brought to life by Sills' rendition of the Mad Scene. Her coloratura, especially the ascending trills in "Al dolce guidami", is spectacular. Sills tosses off "Coppia iniqua", a very difficult Mad Scene cabaletta, as easily as if she were eating popcorn. In this cabaletta, more voice would have benefitted Sills' singing. She certainly sounds angry, but the voice does not have enough heft to make her fury truly riveting. Giovanna Seymour is played by Shirley Verrett. She is an estimable artist. However, I find her too regal in this role, especially in the duet with Sills. Compared to Jennifer Larmore on "Belleza Vocale", her Giovanna Seymour is a lightweight. Verrett seems like she is always behind the three great Italian mezzos in histrionic prowess, those three being Fedora Barbieri, Giulietta Simionato, and Fiorenza Cossotto. She may sing better than them, but her chest register is sorely lacking and her histrionics seem dull in comparison with theirs. However, her high register is the envy of many lesser endowed mezzos. Anyway, she is still a great artist. The other cast members are great, except for Paul Plishka. His portrayal of Henry VIII is too stuffy and haughty. Where is the Italian passion? Stuart Burrows has a nice voice and sings Percy well. His high register is admirable, especially considering the vocal difficulties of the role. However, it seems that he took several high notes in falsetto. Patricia Kern makes a great Smeton. Her harp-accompanied aria in the beginning of the opera is well sung with good emotional involvement and some nice coloratura. Her great Act I Scene 3 aria is delivered very well. Julius Rudel is a great conductor and does a great job in the pit. The string section is a bit sloppy, especially in "Coppia iniqua", but that just heightens the drama of the Mad Scene. Overall, this is a great recording of "Anna Bolena".
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on March 27, 2005
This is one of my favourite operas. I have heard the Callas, Sunderland (CD and DVD performances) and Gruberova (not to mention some live recordings).

Callas was breathtaking in her live performance from the 50's (especially in Act 3) BUT the sound quality is very poor indeed and the other soloists are second rate. The performance was also heavily cut. I only wish she had recorded the whole opera in the studio, instead of one or two arias.

Sunderland was well past her prime by the time she recorded her performance on CD. Her diction, never a strong point for her, is particularly 'woolly' and she has problems sustaining the higher register without strain. It is a pity she didn't record it much earlier in her career. Boynage conducts in a pedestrian manner too (compare the overture from Boynage and Rudel, Rudel makes the overture exciting and vibrant. Boynage conducts a somewhat flat and one dimensional rendition).

Gruberova's recording on CD is from a live performance and is truly aweful in places. I actually think it is one of the worst performances of anything I have ever heard 'recorded'. Don't touch it with a barge pole.

Then there is Sills performance. OK, I wish the voice was a little heavier at times but her singing is, as usual, beautiful. You feel that Anna Bolena is a role she loved, she conveys dramatic sincerity throughout. Rudel conducts his orchestral forces with such energy. Indeed, he is a major selling point of this set for me. He injects the performance with flair and gusto. Verrett, Burrows and Plishka don't put a foot wrong. A wonderful performance. I love this recording above all the others. Buy it. This set leaves the competition standing, (although, if you can tolerate the appalling sound, Callas' performance is fantastic too, however overall this set is far superior).
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I AM PRIVILEGED TO HAVE BEEN A WITNESS TO THE SILLS ERA AT NYCO, AND SAW HER IN ALL THREE QUEENS. NO RECORDED SILLS CAN COMPARE TO LIVE SILLS. TO WATCH HER ON SCENE WAS TO WATCH A FORCE OF NATURE. RECALLING THE FINAL SCENE, WHEN SHE EXTENDS HER ARMS AND LEANS, HER FLAMING HAIR CASCADING FORWARD AS SHE OFFERS HER NECK TO THE EXECUTIONER, STILL SENDS SHIVERS DOWN MY SPINE. THIS RECORDING CAPTURES HER VOCAL MAGIC. VERRETT IS MORE THAN A MATCH; MY FAVORITE BEL CANTO MEZZO. RUDEL CONDUCTS A TIGHT, FAST PACED PERFORMANCE. BY THE WAY, I ALSO HAVE CALLAS AND GENCER--EACH DIFFERENT, EACH UNIQUE. IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO HAVE JUST ONE VERSION OR ONE SINGER FOR THE THREE QUEENS!
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