“Il Trovatore,” or “The Troubadour,” a grand opera in four acts, with words by Salvatore Cammanaro and music by Giuseppe Verdi, was first produced in Rome, Jan. 19, 1853. It had a later English production under the title ” The Gypsy’s Vengeance.” The story was suggested by a Spanish drama of the same name.
The Count di Luna. Ferrando, in his service. The Duchess Leonora. Inez, in her service. Azucena, a gypsy. Manrico, the Troubadour, her reputed son. Muiz, in his service. Followers of the count, guards, nuns, gypsies.
The scene is laid in Italy. The action begins in the palace of La Aliaferia and the necessary explanation is furnished by the old servitor, Ferrando, who is regaling the servants with midnight tales. He tells the story of the Count di Luna’s brother, Garzia, who, when in his cradle, was bewitched by an old gypsy and pined away almost to death. The father of Luna and Garzia punished the male-factor for her sorcery by burning her at the stake and in revenge her daughter Azucena stole the child and doomed him to a fate which had never been discovered.
When Ferrando’s unpleasant tale is finished, the scene changes to Leonora’s garden and the Count appears and sings beneath the windows of her whom he loves. The girl runs into the garden to welcome the singer, thinking that it is Manrico, the troubadour and supposed son of Azucena, whose enchanting voice and valiant bearing in the tournament have completely won her heart. In the darkness, she gives the Count the warm greeting which is intended for Manrico, who arrives just in time to witness the scene and who in grief and anger, charges Leonora with infidelity. She sees her mistake and rushes impulsively to the troubadour, who is challenged by the other. An encounter follows and Manrico, when it is in his power to kill his enemy, hesitates and is himself dangerously wounded. Leonora, grief-stricken, is spared the sight, for she falls in a swoon, and is borne insensible from the garden. Afterward, the despairing countess hears that Manrico has been killed, and arranges to enter a convent.
Meantime the wounded troubadour is faithfully nursed to health in the gypsy camp by Azucena. In a moment of remorse and tenderness, the woman confesses to him that he is not her son and that when her mother was burned, she stole the Count’s child with the intention of sacrificing it in the flames of the pyre but that in her frenzy she threw her own child to death instead. Manrico’s emotion at these words is so great that in terror she retracts them. A messenger comes to summon Manrico back to military duty and from him the lover learns that Leonora will take the veil that very evening. He rescues her, however, just before she has taken the vows. Count Luna, arriving at the same time and for the same purpose, is further enraged by his rival’s success.
Azucena is arrested as a sorceress and a spy in the camp of the Count. She calls upon Manrico for help but the sound of the hated name only intensifies the anger of Luna against her and he sentences her to the awful fate of her mother. Manrico, for his attempted assistance, is seized and thrown into prison to die by the axe. Leonora offers her hand to the Count if he will release the prisoners and her terms are accepted. She flies to the dungeon to announce his deliverance to Manrico but first takes poison to escape her part of the compact. Manrico refuses to be freed on such terms and, after a pathetic love scene, she falls dead at her lover’s feet. The thwarted Count orders Manrico away to immediate execution and drags Azucena to the window to look upon her son’s slaughter. Then the gypsy reveals her secret and the Count learns that his murdered rival is his own brother.
“Il Trovatore” gained immediate success and has retained it undimmed for over fifty years. It may be mentioned without hesitation in the list of a dozen operas which hold the boards securely. It is of all Verdi’s work most firmly enshrined in the public heart.
The most popular number of the opera is the “Miserere,” “Ah che la Morte,” (“Ah! how release of death”), sung by Manrico. Other notable passages are Leonora’s song to the night, “Tacea la notte placida” (“The night so calmly dreaming”) ; the trio for Leonora. Manrico and Luna, with which the first act closes ; the anvil chorus, in the camp of the gypsies; Azucena’s impassioned solo descriptive of her mother’s awful fate, “Stride la vampa” (“Hissing the flames”) ; the Count’s aria, “Il balen;” Manrico’s “high C” outburst, “Di quella pira” (“From flaming death-pyre”) and the duet for Manrico and Azucena, “Ai nostri Monti” (“Back to our mountains”).