It is not only television drama that loves the gory history of the Tudor dynasty. Opera has been drawn to the Tudors for several centuries longer, and Rossini, Pacini, Saint-Saëns and Britten, among others, have left a generous Tudor-inspired legacy.
Top of the list come three operas by Donizetti. Though neglected for the best part of a century, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux have become some of his most frequently performed works, turning up most recently as a cycle at the Metropolitan Opera, New York.
Diana Damrau has recorded the closing scenes of each. This means she gets beheaded twice — first as Anne Boleyn, then as Mary, Queen of Scots — and finally gets her own back as Elizabeth I ordering the execution of her favourite, Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
These are glorious soprano showpieces, familiar in recordings by great prima donnas of the past. Damrau has reached the stage where her voice is showing the wear and tear of a busy career. When she is singing loud and high, the sound can become harsh and wobbly, but undeterred she throws herself into the dramas. There is no shirking the difficulties and the Italian texts are delivered with biting clarity. These are high-intensity performances, in which Damrau vividly portrays her trio of regal women in extremis.
The red-blooded accompaniments confirm Antonio Pappano at the helm, conducting the Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia. Each of the scenes is performed complete with choruses and supporting roles.
‘Tudor Queens’ is released by Erato