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Opera Essentials: Giuseppe Verdi's Il trovatore

Our quick introduction to a thrilling masterpiece which features some of its composer's most powerful music.

By Kate Hopkins (Content Producer (Opera and Music))

18 May 2016 at 10.33am | 7 Comments

The story begins…

Before the opera starts, the tragedy has already been set in motion. The gypsy Azucena has vowed to avenge the murder of her mother at the hands of the aristocratic Luna family, and so has abducted their younger son. The opera joins the story years later, when Azucena’s foster-son Manrico and the military commander Count di Luna have become rivals in love for Leonora. Azucena has a secret that affects both men: will she tell it, or will she see her revenge through at any cost?

A spiritual sequel to Rigoletto

Verdi began work on Il trovatore in 1851, soon after the premiere of Rigoletto. According to some sources he saw Il trovatore as a spiritual sequel, this time with a female protagonist trapped between love for her child and urgent desire for vengeance. Work on Il trovatore took time (Verdi’s librettist Salvadore Cammarano died in 1852, and Leon Emanuele Bardare was brought in to complete the text) but the opera finally had a successful premiere on 19 January 1853 at the Apollo Theatre in Rome. Il trovatore quickly became one of Verdi’s most popular operas.

Grand and passionate music

Verdi was inspired by the wild passions of his four principal characters to write some of his greatest arias. These include the brooding ‘Stride la vampa’ (Part II) for Azucena – the first of several great Verdi roles, including Eboli and Amneris, for mezzo-soprano; the heroic ‘Di quella pira’ for Manrico (Part III); Leonora’s poignant ‘D’amor sull’ali rosee’ (Part IV); and Count di Luna’s brief episode of vulnerability as he sings of his love for Leonora in ‘Il balen del suo sorriso’ (Part II).

Fierce energy

Verdi wanted Il trovatore to be ‘daring’ with ‘many contrasts’. His score includes dramatic narratives, reflective arias, impassioned duets and fiery choruses – including the famous Anvil Chorus using industrial tools as percussion. It uses traditional operatic conventions but also subverts them, and demonstrates from start to finish an immense musical energy, reflecting the inexorable process of this drama of vengeance.

Private and public battles

Director David Bösch emphasizes the conflict between two worlds: the fragile, poetic world of the gypsies (with its fascination with the supernatural) and the brutal military world of Count di Luna. The military setting complements the personal war between Manrico and the Count, rivals in love. Imagery of snow and fire unites the two very different worlds, and reflects the vividly drawn passions of the leading characters.

Recommended if you like…

Verdi’s Rigoletto
Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor
Wagner’s Der fliegende Holländer

Il trovatore runs 1 December 2016-8 February 2017.

Tickets go on sale to Friends of Covent Garden on 21 September 2016. General booking opens on 18 October 2016.

The staging is a co-production with Frankfurt Opera and is staged with generous philanthropic support from the Royal Opera House Endowment Fund.

This article has 7 comments

  1. Brendan Quinn responded on 22 May 2016 at 10:08pm Reply

    I am looking forward to it. Brining my 11 year old son, his first visit to the opera house, please promise it won't be a disaster on the same proportions as the disastrous Lucia recently,

    • Acar Nazli responded on 27 October 2016 at 1:58pm

      Il Trovatore is not a first opera for a young child. All performances I saw of it (Met Opera) was dark and dingy. One of the greatest anyone composed, but dark nevertheless. My first opera ever was Cavaleria at Istanbul Opera 50 years ago.

  2. Roger Mullis responded on 23 May 2016 at 4:40pm Reply

    I only hope it's as good as the brilliant Lucia.

  3. Stephen Diviani responded on 23 May 2016 at 5:39pm Reply

    Really hoping that it is as good as Katie Mitchell's superb and incredibly affecting production of Lucia.

  4. Robert John Sumnall responded on 28 May 2016 at 11:31am Reply

    Lucia was dire. It was Katie Mitchell's Lucia definitely not Donizetti's. Joan Sutherland would never have made her big break with this production. Never been so disappointed in an opera production as I was with this travesty.

  5. Derek stone responded on 28 May 2016 at 2:59pm Reply

    I, too, hope this production will not be as terrible as that of Lucia recently

  6. B E Miller responded on 16 June 2016 at 5:29pm Reply

    Please please let this be better than Lucia, which in fact was dreadful and made me wish I hadn't spent so much on coming to the Royal Opera House.

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