GIUSEPPE VERDI (1813-1901):


Events that happened prior to the opera set the stage. The old Count di Luna, now dead, had two sons of almost the same age. One night during their infancy, they were asleep under a Nurse's charge. An old gypsy hag snuck into the castle and was discovered bent over the younger child's cradle. Because the child grew wan and pale, it was assumed that the gypsy had given the child the evil eye and bewitched him. The penalty was severe; the court hunted down the gypsy and burned her at the stake. Azucena, the daughter of the murdered gypsy, witnessed the spectacle and swore vengeance. She snuck into the castle and stole the Count's younger child from his cradle. She hurried back to the scene of her mother's execution, where the fire still burned. Although her intention was to hurl the stolen child into the flames, in her distress, she mistakenly threw her own child into the fire. Azucena then returned to her gypsy tribe, taking the live infant with her. She raised the child as her own and told nobody about her mistake. Although she grew to love the child, who is known as Manrico, she still hopes to wreak vengeance on his family.

Act I "The Duel"

Scene 1: Vestibule in the palace of Aliaferia in the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon

The opera begins without an overture or formal prelude. A series of martial arpeggios and horn calls sets the scene. Spain is torn apart by civil war. Count di Luna, the commander of the Royalist Aragon troops, is obsessed with Leonora, a young woman in the queen's service who does not return his affection. The Count's soldiers are keeping watch for an unknown troubadour who has been heard serenading Leonora and whom the Count wishes to capture and punish. Ferrando, the captain, keeps his troops awake by recounting the terrible story of a gypsy woman who was burned at the stake many years ago as punishment for bewitching the Count's younger brother Garzia. He sings the remarkably rhythmical "Abbietta zingara" ("Despicable gypsy").  The gypsy's daughter took her revenge by kidnapping the younger boy and by apparently throwing the baby into the flames where her mother had died. The charred skeleton of a baby was found in the ashes, and the grief-stricken father died shortly afterwards. The daughter, Azucena, was never found. Count di Luna has never abandoned hope that the remains might not have been his brother's and has vowed to find the woman who threw the child into the fire. As the clock strikes midnight, the terrified crowd rushes out.

Scene 2: Gardens of the palace

The lovely Leonora strolls through the palace gardens with her companion Inez. She confides her interest in an unknown knight who recently won a tournament but then disappeared when civil war erupted. Because the knight has been serenading her, she knows that he returns her love. He's called "Il Trovatore" ("The Troubador"). Leonora tells of the serenade and the emotions it has awakened in her in a lovely aria: "Taceo la note placida" ("Peaceful was the night"). The music moves from minor to major as Leonora describes her rising passion. AlthoughInez has a presentiment of evil and encourages Leonora to forget her hero, Leonora remains firm.

Leonora and Inez enter the palace just as the Count di Luna enters the garden. As soon as he appears, the voice of the troubadour resounds from the nearby bushes: "Deserto sulla terra". Leonora rushes out into the darkness and mistakes the Count for her troubadour. When the light of the moon reveals the real troubadour, Leonora rushes toward him and declares her love. Now in a terrible rage, the Count demands to know the troubadour's identity. The troubadour removes his mask and reveals that he is Manrico, a follower of the Prince of Biscay and leader of the partisan rebel forces. The three principals finish the act with a two-movement trio that culminates in a furious stretta (passage in faster tempo): "Di geloso amor sprezzato". The two men angrily draw their swords and rush away to fight a duel. Leonora faints.

Act II "The Gypsy"

Scene 1: A ruined house at the foot of a mountain in Biscay

It is dawn in a gypsy camp in the Biscay Mountains. Groups of gypsies sit around a bright campfire. Acuzena stays near the fire as her son Manrico gazes at his sword. As the day grows brighter, the gypsies sing about their duties working in the forge. They swing their hammers and bring them down on the clanking metal as they sing the famous Anvil Chorus, Chi gel Gitano I giorni abbella?"

Azucena has been gazing abstractly at the fire. When the gypsies pause to rest from their work, she begins to sing to herself of the vision that plagues her – that of flames soaring upward: ("Stride la vampa"). The music hovers obsessively around the note B.The gypsies listen attentively and then depart, leaving Azucena to continue her story about mistakenly throwing her very own child into the flames. She still hears the command "Avenge thou me."

Manrico pays close attention to Azucena's song and asks if he is really her son. Avoiding the question, she shifts the conversation to the way in which she nursed him back to life after he had received a battle wound that nearly killed him. The forces of Biscay and Aragon were at each other's throats. Azucena asks Manrico about the duel that he just won: why did he spare Count di Luna's life? Manrico explains that as he raised his sword to kill di Luna, he heard a voice from heaven calling "Do not strike."  He continues in his aria "Mal reggendo al' aspro assalta" ("At my mercy lay the foe"). The music becomes more agitated as Azucena urges her supposed son to never let this enemy go again.


(ACT II continued)

Ruiz enters with a message from the Prince of Biscay, ordering Manrico to take command of the defense of the castle Castellor. He also explains that Leonora believes he has died and is about to enter a convent. Manrico leaves, despite Azucena's protests. In their duet cabaletta, Azucena begs Manrico in vain not to court danger again: "Periglirti ancor languente".

Scene 2: The cloister of a convent near Castellor

Count di Luna has decided to carry Leonora away by force before she takes her vows. He and his troops lurk outside the chapel, and he sings of the happiness that awaits him: "Il balen del suo sorriso" (The Tempest of the Heart"). The nuns sing and emerge from the convent, accompanying Leonora to the chapel where the ceremony will take place. As Leonora bids farewell to her attendant Inez, the Count and his followers rush forward. The nuns draw back in fear. Manrico now appears with his soldiers, fends off the Count and his troops, and rescues Leonora. The ensemble number is striking and comes to a magnificent climax with Leonora's rising line "Sei tu dal ciel disceso, o in ciel son io con te?" Leonora and Manrico run off.

Act III: "The Gypsy's Son"

Scene 1: A military encampment

The Count di Luna has laid siege to Castellor, the place to which Manrico has taken Leonora. As the Count's soldiers prepare to attack, they sing a rousing chorus telling of their hopes of winning fame and booty when they capture the castle: "Squilli, echiggi la tromba guerriera". They march away singing their stirring war song. Feeling anxious to see her son, Azucena attempts to break through the besieging forces. The Count's army captures her and brings her before him as a possible spy. Questioning reveals the story of her past and her connection with the Count's childhood. Ferrando swears that she murdered di Luna's long-lost brother. Azuzena cries out Manrico's name. When di Luna learns of her connection to Manrico, he swears double vengeance. The men bind Azucena and drag her away.

Scene 2: A hall adjoining the chapel of Castellor

Within the stronghold of Castellor, Manrico and Leonora await the hour of their marriage. Although they are happy about their upcoming marriage, they are fearful that the Count di Luna may soon attack. Manrico tries to calm Leonora's alarm by singing an aria of devotion: "Ah! Si, ben mio" (Ah, yes, beloved"). As he finishes singing, the organ in the adjoining chapel announces the beginning of the wedding ceremony. Just as Manrico takes Leonora's hand to lead her to the altar, Ruiz interrupts with the news that the besiegers have captured Azucena and plan to burn her at the stake as they did her mother. Manrico drops Leonora's hand, draws his sword, and gives vent to his rage and horror in the famous aria "Di quella pira" ("Tremble ye tyrants"). He rushes away to rescue his mother.

Act IV "The Ordeal"

Scene 1: A wing of the Palace of Aliaferia; a dungeon tower showing a barred window

Having been defeated by Count di Luna and his forces, Manrico is now captive in the dungeon tower of Aliaferia, where Azucena has already been chained. Leonora lingers outside, hoping to save her lover. She wears a poisoned ring so she can take her own life if necessary. Thinking of Manrico, she sings an expressive melody declaring her hope that love may penetrate even the dark dungeon: "D'amor sull'ali rosee" ("Love, fly on rosy wings"). The music of Leonora's aria has dark instrumental sonorities and a predominantly falling line. From within the tower comes a solemn chant of "Miserere" praying for heaven to have mercy on the soul of the one who is about to perish. A tolling bell suggests the doom that will befall Manrico.

Both the chant and the bell fill Leonora with terror. Accompanied by the orchestra's playing shuddering chords, she sings of her fears. Manrico sings from the prison, beginning with Sconto col sangue mio" ("Paid with my blood"), and closing with the words "Do not forget me! Leonora, farewell." Leonora claims she can never forget Manrico and that she will save his life by sacrificing her own. As the Count enters, Leonora begs for mercy for Manrico. He refuses, and Leonora then offers to marry him if that will save Manrico. The Count agrees, and while he is giving orders to the guards, Leonora swallows the poison.

Scene 2: A gloomy dungeon

Manrico and Azucena await their execution. Azucena pictures the horror of the flames leaping around her, just as they did around her mother. Manrico tries to calm her, urging her to rest. She meditates nostalgically, singing "Ai nostril monti" ("Home to our mountains") and then falls asleep.

Leonora enters to tell Manrico of his freedom. Manrico takes the news badly, believing that Leonora is betraying his love by marrying the Count. The poison begins to take effect, and Leonora falls to the ground. Realizing that Leonora has sacrificed her own life on his behalf, Manrico apologizes. The Count appears in the doorway and overhears Leonora tell Manrico that she would prefer death to life as the bride of anyone other than him.

The Count realizes that Leonora has cheated him and orders the immediate execution of Manrico. He drags Acuzena to witness the killing. Crazed with excitement, she reveals that Manrico and di Luna are brothers. She has avenged her mother, and she falls dead. The Count gets the last word as he gasps in horror: "And I still live."

Highlights of the Opera

  • Il Trovatore is based on a play written by Antonio Garcia Guitierrez when he was only 22 years old. Guitierrez also wrote the play on which Verdi based the-opera Simon Bocanegra.
  • Salvatore Cammarano wrote the libretto but died before its completion. Leone Emanuele Bardare, a young poet from Naples, picked up where Cammarano left off, and when this second librettist became involved, Verdi expanded Leonora's role.  Cammarano (1801-1852) was a playwright and outstanding librettist of his day. He created several libretti for Donizetti, including that for Lucia di Lammermoor, as well as the libretto for Verdi's Luisa Miller. Cammarano was most interested in the character of Azucena, who was torn between filial love and the desire for revenge and maternal love for the son she raised as her own. Verdi himself loved the way in which all the characters, with the exception of the Count di Luna, express their strongly felt emotions.
  • Verdi wrote Il Trovatore at a trying time in his life. His mother had died and his father was ill. Verdi and his parents communicated through legal counsel over his newly acquired property at Sant'Agata (now the Villa Verdi). The town of Busseto mocked his live-in companion and eventually wife Giuseppina Strepponi for her checkered past. His close relationship with his Antonio Barezzi, his father-in-law from his first marriage, was deteriorating.  Nonetheless, when the first librettist died before completion of the opera, Verdi persisted!
  • The pace at which Verdi wrote the opera mirrors the music of the work itself. Although he had been thinking of the opera for two years, he wrote it within a month.
  • The opera followed Rigoletto, and in many ways, Azucena is the female version of Rigoletto. Both characters are torn between filial love and the desire for revenge.
  • In the first half of the opera, the characters tell stories and talk of hearing voices. Later actions are related to those stories.
  • The first performance took place at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on January 19, 1853. In spite of the facts that there had been last minute budget issues and the baritone was in poor voice, the performance was a success. The entire last scene was repeated in a splendid encore. Within a few years, Verdi made some revisions for a performance in Paris. Unlike many of Verdi's other operas, however, the original version of Il Trovatore is the one performed today. The first performance in the United States took place at the Academy of Music in New York in 1855. The first performance at the Metropolitan Opera took place in 1883. Between 1883 and 2010, the Met gave 615 performances of Il Trovatore.
  • Il Trovatore has always been among Verdi's most popular operas. Although the story is convoluted and has no moral conclusion, audiences have always loved the powerful music, the variety of rhythms, and the intricate web of family ties, politics, and love. William Berger, the author of Verdi with a Vengeance, comments that Il Trovatore is often regarded as "oom-pah-pah strings with vocal howling". To him, its emotional vocalism and appeal to the primal are worthy of praise.
  • Most of the arias are written in minor key. The exception is the music sung by the villain, Count di Luna. Unexpectedly, he sings in a major key.
  • The music of the opera is as disturbing as the story. Verdi uses uneven meters and counter-rhythms. The off-beat percussion of the well-known Anvil Chorus emphasizes the stress that the different characters are experiencing.
  • The orchestration as well as the singing contributes to the sense of life's being off kilter.

Upcoming Opera Events

  • Metropolitan Opera Live in HD: March 18, 2023 and the following Wednesday, Wagner's Lohengrin
  • Triangle Wagner Society: April 23, 2023, James Holman lecture "The Wagner Symphony"
  • NC Opera: April 14 and 16, 2023, Gershwin's Porgy and Bess
  • Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle: March 25, 2023, Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice
  • Mallarme Music: April 1, 2023, Frank Walker's Life of a Bee with LaToya Lain and Andrea Edith Moore

About this Website

The website contains links to the music we will hear and other background information.

Questions and Additional Information

Please reach out to Instructor Margie Satinsky with questions and requests for additional information. Contact information is: (919) 383-5998 (home/work), or (919) 812-2235 (cell/text), or margiesatinsky@icloud.com.