You are on page 1of 23

Il TrovaTore

B y G i u s e p p e Ve rd i

tu w r it te n b y S a G u iL d Ly r ic O p e r

In-depth e G u I dwiS of the Le

Photo by Michal Daniel for Minnesota Opera

intrOductiOn
Sometimes its all about the singing. From its very beginning, opera was conceived of as a re-creation of the experience of the ancient Greek theater, where the purpose of the music was to heighten the sense of drama. But when confronted by Il Trovatore, an opera which traditionally makes most peoples lists of the most ridiculous opera plots, maybe its best to sit back and admire Verdis gift for melody and his ability to bring out the best in the human voice. As the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso once remarked, staging Il Trovatore is easy all you need are the four greatest singers in the world. Sandwiched between the film-noir darkness of Rigoletto and the social protest of La Traviata, Il Trovatore tends to strike many audiences today as a regression to an earlier style of musical drama. Such was not the case in Verdis time, however, when the opera was an immediate success and helped establish Verdis reputation in the U.S. Much of the problem stems from the fact that the story hinges on the switched-in-infancy or discovered identity motif that was a staple of the literature of the time, but seems artificial by current standards. The plots of Fieldings Tom Jones and Dickens Oliver Twist depend on such revelations, and Mark Twain used the baby-switch seriously in Puddnhead Wilson to make an ironic commentary on racial stereotypes. By the time Gilbert and Sullivan were in their heyday, this idea had become a clich to be ridiculed, as in The Gondoliers or, more absurdly, in H.M.S. Pinafore, where the switch involves two men of vastly different ages. On the other hand, the idea of a character learning the truth about his birth still resonates today, as in Darth Vaders proclamation, Luke, I am your father. Many people today may have been introduced to Il Trovatore through the Marx Brothers A Night at the Opera, the climactic scene of which takes place during a performance of this opera (with an incongruously happy ending) in which Harpo plays the Anvil Chorus on a set of horseshoes. Film critic Pauline Kael once remarked that, The Marx Brothers did to Il Trovatore what Il Trovatore deserved to have done to it. The use of this work in a film about opera, however, does not seem so much an attempt to lampoon the opera itself as it is a recognition that for

many people, Il Trovatore is the iconic opera. As early as 1861, an article in Dwights Journal of Music remarked, Il Trovatore is almost the only opera. It stands for all operas. If the story of this opera no longer excites us, the problem lies not in Verdi and Cammaraos writing but in audiences changing tastes. The Romantic era in which the opera was conceived liked its heroes and villains larger than life. Verdi himself took the subject very seriously, writing to his librettist It would be better to give up the subject if we cannot manage to sustain all the boldness and novelty of the Spanish play. Opera historian Francis Toye writes, It has been reproached with vulgarity, and the reproach is not unfounded. But the vulgarity is the vulgarity of greatness, a by-product of the vitality and passion without which there can be no great art. In the words of opera commentator M. Owen Lee, Caught in their fixed attitudes, these characters are not, nor are they meant to be, true to life. They are emotionally charged symbols of lifes ironies. At the time the opera was first produced, audiences wanted works with spectacular action and vivid characterizations and were less concerned with logic and realism. And as for that illogic which has caused so much ridicule to be heaped on the opera a mother throwing the wrong baby into the fire. As I was writing this, a video was circulating on the internet showing a baby barely escaping death when his caretaker inexplicably placed him in a washing machine at the laundromat. But of course, as Mark Twain once said, Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to stick to possibilities.

cHaracterS
Ferrando (Bass) Count di Lunas captain of the guard
(fer-RAHN-do)

Ines (Soprano) Companion to Leonora


(EE-nez)

Leonora (Soprano) Lady in Waiting to the Princess of Aragon


(lay-oh-NO-rah)

Count di Luna (Baritone) Nobleman of Aragon Manrico (Tenor) a Biscayan chieftain


(mahn-REE-ko)

Azucena (Mezzo-Soprano) a Biscayan gypsy


(ah-zoo-CHAY-nah)

Ruiz (Tenor) one of Manricos soldiers An Old Gypsy (Bass) Messenger (Tenor) Chorus of soldiers, etc, for both sides in the conflict

tHe StOry
The action of the story takes place in fifteenth century Spain. Verdi and Cammarano divided the play into four parts (not acts), each with a subtitle of its own. Each part is divided into two scenes.
part i: tHe dueL

Scene 1: Late night: the Castle of Aliaferia Whereas in earlier times every opera opened with an overture, by the time of Il Trovatores debut, composers generally preferred to get right into the action. Accordingly, Verdi composed a brief prelude, starting with the sound of the tympani, followed by horns, symbolic of the ongoing civil war which underlies the conflicts in the opera. A contingent of soldiers is onstage. Ferrando, their captain, enters, telling them to be on guard. Not only are they protecting the castle; they are also watching for the mysterious troubadour who has been serenading Leonora, with whom the Count di Luna is infatuated. The term troubadour, incidentally, is used somewhat loosely here, since the term generally referred to nobles who sang for the entertainment of members of the court. The soldiers tell Ferrando that they are sleepy, and they ask for a story to keep them awake. The story they request is of the murder of the Counts younger brother, a story which they apparently have heard before. This device of having one character tell another something the listener already knows in order to impart information to the audience, though currently considered artificial, was standard practice in the nineteenth century. Starting with a dramatic narrative which develops into a formal aria, with alternating slow and fast sections, Ferrando recounts how, when the Counts baby brother was sleeping, a gypsy woman was discovered hovering over the baby. While she protested that she was only trying to provide the child with a horoscope, the old Count believed she was casting a spell on the child and ordered her to be burned at the stake as a witch. When the old woman was dying, she cried out for revenge, and her daughter threw the child into the fire. Amid the confusion, the daughter escaped. He suggests that the spirit of the old woman may still be haunting the castle, and the chorus, sharing the racist stereotype upon which Ferrando has played, runs with the idea, relating sightings of the various animals into which she has transposed herself. They exit the stage as twelve quick chimes indicate the midnight hour.

Scene 2: The gardens of the palace, shortly afterward Leonora, accompanied by Ines, is in the garden, hoping for further contact with the mysterious troubadour. In the aria Tacea la notte (the night was still) she describes how she met the mysterious knight and of their separation when the civil war broke out. This aria is a wonderful representation of the great dramatic arias that Verdi wrote for his sopranos. In accord with the conventions of the time, it is divided into four parts: a declamatory introduction, a slow melodic section called a cavatina, a brief transitional passage, and an up-tempo section called a cabaletta. (Violettas famous Sempre libre from La Traviata follows the same pattern.) Listen for the wonderfully understated woodwind accompaniment to the slow section. Ines breaks in a number of times to warn Leonora to take care, and her voice joins Leonoras at the conclusion of the cabaletta, a combining of voices which may remind some viewers of Lucias Quando rapito in estase from Lucia di Lammermoor. On the surface, this pattern may seem overly formulaic, but for librettists it represented a challenge to write an aria in such a way that the change of mood would be justified. This pattern, which to some extent is a descendent of the A-B-A formula that prevailed in Baroque times, could also be seen as the fore-runner of the verse-chorus structure of the American musical theater and popular song styles. The Count enters, and Leonora, believing him to be the troubadour, embraces him. Just then, Manrico, the troubadour, enters and Leonora, realizing her mistake, pulls away. The Count recognizes his rival as a soldier in the army of Urgel, leader of the rebellion. Rather than calling for his troops, the Count, recognizing that his vendetta is personal rather than political, chooses to settle it himself. The emotional exclamations of the three characters blend into a thrilling trio, culminating in a duel between the two men, which is still in progress as the curtain falls.

part ii: tHe GypSy

Scene 1: Some time afterward, early morning: The mountains of Biscay The curtain rises on a band of Gypsies as the orchestra plays the introduction to the most instantly recognizable music from this opera, the famous Anvil Chorus. Here Verdi follows a long-established convention of using grace notes and triangles to denote Gypsy music. (The best-known example of this device is the opening of the second act of Bizets Carmen, written several years later). The men sing a work song, pounding their anvils in time to the music. Unlike the Gypsies in Carmen, Verdis Gypsies work for a living. Some people have noted that Gilbert and Sullivans Come Friends who Plow the Sea from The Pirates of Penzance (better known to Americans as Hail, Hail the Gangs All Here) appears to be a variant of this chorus. As the chorus ends, Azucena sings the aria Stride la vampa (the flames cry out), a description of a woman being burned at the stake, though Cammarano fails to provide any motivation for her decision to dampen the mood at this point, other than to provide information for the audience. This aria represented a major advance in the development of the dramatic potential of the mezzo-soprano voice (more on this later). Verdi considered Azucena so central to the action of the opera that he originally considered making her the lead character and naming the opera after her instead of Manrico. Stride la vampa is meant to be a song that is, the characters on stage, as well as the audience, hear it as such. She goes on to explain the meaning of the song; she is describing the death of her own mother, and we realize she is the daughter we heard of in the opening scene. She reveals that the baby thrown into the fire, however, was not Count di Lunas brother, but her own infant, whom she had mistaken for the Counts brother in the confusion of the moment. Manrico, who has been listening, is horrified, and he begins to wonder if he is really her son, but she evades his question. We now learn the outcome of the duel. Manrico had won but claims that a heavenly voice had told him to spare the Counts life, after which the Count and his men attacked him, leaving him for dead. Azucena had found him and nursed him back to health. She berates him for his generosity in sparing the Counts life.

Though as we have mentioned Il Trovatore has been considered old-fashioned in contrast to Verdis other operas from the same period, the duet between mother and son is a wonderful example of Verdis ability to compose dramatic dialogue and of his increased emphasis on writing ensembles instead of stand-alone solo arias. A horn sounds, announcing the arrival of a messenger. Manrico learns that Leonora, believing him dead, has decided to join a convent. Despite Azucenas pleading for him to remain with her, Manrico goes off to rescue Leonora from the cloistered life. Scene 2: Outside a convent The Count, Ferrando, and some of their followers enter. We learn that, like Manrico, the Count means to stop Leonora from taking her vows. The Count had assumed that with his rival (supposedly) dead, Leonora would be his, and he has no intention of allowing the church to stand in his way. His aria Il balen del suo sorriso follows a similar structure to that of Leonora heard earlier. After an introductory recitative passage, the melody turns lyrical, and his expression of love is accompanied by the same type of soft accompaniment we heard in Leonoras aria. Bells are heard indicating the beginning of the ceremony, and after a brief discussion with Ferrando about the dangers of his enterprise (the transitional section), he launches into a cabaletta expressing not joy but his resolve that not even God, his rival for Leonoras hand, can defeat him now. Some listeners may find it strange that Count di Luna, the villain of the opera, should be given such a tender, sincere love song, but Verdi clearly understood the complexity of human emotions and realized that even a man like the Count could experience true love. Furthermore, the Count is not necessarily an evil character. In his eyes, Manrico, as a follower of the rebel cause, is a traitor and he, the Count, is defending the social order. In the end, we will come to see him as much a tragic character as Rigoletto. Leonora enters with the nuns and the other initiates. She says that she is choosing this course of action because she expects to be reunited with Manrico after death. The Count interrupts the ceremony to claim his bride, only to be interrupted himself by Manrico, who has arrived with

superior numbers and soon subdues his rival. Leonora is overjoyed to learn that Manrico is alive, and her joy is expressed in excited triplets which may bring to mind Gildas exclamations in the famous Rigoletto quartet. Beginning with this, Verdi builds one of his greatest ensembles as the various characters and the chorus simultaneously tell us what is on their minds. Inexplicably, Manrico spares the Counts life again and exits with his beloved as the curtain falls. Incidentally, in the original play Manrico rescues Leonora after she has taken her vows. The idea of a nun deserting her position would have been too offensive to get by the censors, so in the opera the abduction takes place before Leonora has irrevocably committed herself to the cloistered life.
part iii: tHe GypSyS SOn

Scene 1: Count di Lunas camp, near Castillor Martial music in the orchestra, soon echoed by the chorus, introduces the action, where the Counts army is anticipating the next days battle, in which they hope to retake Castillor, which has fallen into rebel hands. Count di Luna enters. For him, the raid is more personal since he hopes to take Leonora by force from Manrico. Soldiers come in dragging Azucena, whom they do not yet recognize, behind them. She had been seen wandering around the camp and they suspect her of spying. She sings plaintively, in time, that she is merely wandering, as Gypsies do, and that she is looking for her son. Picking up her melody, the Count and Ferrando begin to question her, and Ferrando finally recognizes her as the woman who killed the Counts infant brother. The Count orders her to be burned at the stake, and she cries out for Manrico to save her. The Count, who had not previously known of the relationship between her and Manrico, exults. In an ensemble which in essence functions as a caballetta for the entire scene, Azucena curses her captors while they condemn her as a murderer. They lead her offstage as the orchestra, heavy on the brass, concludes the scene.

Scene 2: The chapel of the castle of Castillor After some brief dialogue, in which we learn that Manrico and his troops are preparing for the battle which Manrico is confident of winning, he serenades Leonora with the aria Ah si, ben mio (Ah yes, my love). It is a simple, lyrical tune to which he expresses his hopes for their impending marriage, which is to take place that day, and he says that should he die in battle he can take consolation that they will be reunited in heaven. Manricos solo is followed by a duet between the two, as they look forward to their wedding. Ruiz, however, interrupts them with the news that Azucena has been captured and is about to be burned at the stake. Leonora cannot understand Manricos reaction, and he reveals to her for the first time that he is Azucenas son, and that rescuing her must therefore take precedence over their wedding. Manrico marshals the troops with the thrilling cabaletta Di quella pira (The flames of the fire), and the chorus responds enthusiastically to the challenge, especially to Manricos interspersed high note which has become conventional despite its not being in the printed score. The men rush off to battle as the scene ends.
part iV: tHe executiOn

Scene 1: The Palace of Aliaferia Perhaps our introduction to this final section should have a warning sign: Plot Holes Ahead. In fact, many members of the audience might well be tempted at this point to turn off the subtitles screen and sit back to enjoy some of the greatest music ever written for the dramatic soprano voice, topped off with one of the baritone/soprano duets for which Verdi was justly famous. Since the previous scene, the Counts forces have triumphed and have taken Manrico captive. For some reason that is never explained, Azucenas execution has been postponed. A brief gloomy passage in the orchestra sets the nocturnal scene. Leonora and Ruiz enter. Left alone, she sings of her resolve to free Manrico. A chorus in the background is heard singing the Miserere, praying for the soul of the man who is about to die (their presence is never really explained). Manrico is heard offstage, longing for death to come already and bidding farewell to Leonora. The three elements blend into a masterful ensemble. Leonoras melody, with the orchestra beating out a slow steady rhythm, sounds much like a funeral march. We learn that she is carrying poison (inside a finger ring), to

commit suicide if necessary to carry out her plan. In a cabaletta, she rejoices that she and Manrico will someday be united in Paradise. Hearing the Count coming, she hides, and she hears the Count order the execution of both Manrico and Azucena. Coming out of hiding, she confronts the Count. First she asks for mercy, and when that fails she offers to die in place of Manrico. When that offer is refused, she plays her trump card she offers her body (presumably in marriage, though this is not stated directly) in exchange for Manricos freedom. The Count exults that at last he will possess the object of his affection, and he agrees. Of course, such bargains are a common theme in folklore, and such an agreement lies at the heart of Puccinis Tosca. Here, however, the Count seems ready to honor his pledge, for Manrico would presumably be on his way home before the affair is consummated. Leonora, however, is so averse to the Counts advances that she drinks the poison. The two join in an exultant cabaletta. The Count rejoices that he will have Leonora at last, while she rejoices that she has been able to give her life to save her beloved, and the scene comes to a triumphant conclusion. Of course, it does seem incongruous that Leonora would be in such a rush to poison herself, running the risk of dying before Manrico could be free. In fact, it is her death that ultimately seals Manricos fate. Also, she knows that Manrico risked his life to save Azucena. Would he desert her now to save his own life? Hopefully, the intensity of the music will brush these doubts from our minds. Scene 2: A prison cell A series of slow, somber chords sets the mood. Azucena and Manrico are in chains. Azucena says that she is dying, but she still remembers her mothers death and fears death at the stake. Their extended dialogue soon becomes a duet in which Azucena dreams of escape to their old life while Manrico urges her to get some sleep. Leonora enters and tells Manrico he is free, but he guesses the price she paid and says he would rather die. He berates her for her infidelity, without a touch of gratitude for her courage in saving his life. In the background, Azucena continues to fantasize about a return to the country. Manrico is so caught up in his anger and self-pity that he has totally forgotten about his mothers welfare. (Even if he wants to die, why not try

to free her?) Finally, Leonora reveals the truth, and she and Manrico have a brief reconciliation as she dies, while the Count, realizing that she prefers death to life with him, joins his voice with theirs in a dramatic trio. With Leonora dead, he has no reason to keep Manrico alive, and he orders his immediate execution. He tells Azucena that Manrico is dead, and she cries out, You have killed your brother. Yet I live, the Count replies in horror, while Azucena cries out, Mother, you are avenged as the curtain falls. There has been much discussion pertaining the Azucenas motivation in the final scenes. She probably could have saved both Manricos life and her own if she had revealed the truth about Manricos birth, for the Count would not have knowingly killed his brother and would have had no reason to kill Azucena if he knew it was her own baby she had killed. This ambiguity, however, may actually have been Verdis intention, as he instructed Cammarano, You must conserve to the very end the two passions of this woman: her love for Manrico and her desire for revenge. One thing is certain: Azucena is not mentally ill. Though mad scenes were popular in the nineteenth century as an opportunity for a vocalist to show off her vocal skills, Verdi specifically instructed Cammarano that Azucena is not mad. Verdi biographer Mary Jane Phillips-Matz sees Azucena as a tragic figure similar to the protagonist of Verdis previous opera: The final horror for both Rigoletto and Azucena is that they believe they are striking a blow for justice, but at the end they see their children lying dead.

GiuSeppe Verdi and tHe creatiOn Of Il TrovaTore


Perhaps opera historian Peter Conrad said it best when he declared, Verdi set the entire world to music. From intimate family dramas to large-scale international conflicts, no one composer encompassed so much of life as did Giuseppe Verdi. Giuseppe Verdi was born in 1853 in the small Italian village of Roncole, now part of Italy but under French control at that time. As has been the case with most great composers, his musical talents were recognized at a young age, and he soon moved to nearby Busetto to pursue his music studies under the watchful eye of an arts patron named Antonio Barezzi. During the course of his studies, he fell in love with and married Barezzis daughter, Margherita. But during the tumultuous years that followed (1838-1840), his life turned tragic as disease claimed the lives of both their children and later Margherita herself. All this happened about the time that the first of his twenty-six operas, Oberto, was produced with moderate success. Verdis attempt to compose a comedy, Un giorna di regno, despite his heartbreak, was less successful. He had all but decided to abandon composing when a friend virtually thrust a libretto at him and forced him to take it home to read. The story, set in the Biblical time of the Babylonia Exile, contained one number which haunted Verdis imagination a chorus of Israelites longing for their homeland. Thus was born Nabucco, which was to become a major success, and the rest is history. The aforementioned chorus was called Va pensiero, and the audience understood that Verdi was thinking not about ancient times but rather about the still unformed Italian nation, suffering under the rule of various foreign powers. In the 1840s Verdi composed several operas, most of which he realized were not his best work, as economic necessity forced him to work more quickly than he would have liked. He sometimes referred to this period as the galley years. Perhaps his most notable achievement during this period was the first of his three Shakespearian operas, Macbeth, though he recognized it as a flawed masterpiece, and his revised version, written years later, is the one commonly performed today.

In 1847, Verdi reconnected with Giuseppina Strepponi, who had sung the lead female role in Nabucco but had recently retired from the stage due to voice problems. She was to become the second love of his life, and the couple began living together shortly afterward, though they scandalized the neighbors by avoiding the marriage alter for over a decade, perhaps due to Verdis dislike of the church. In particular, he was criticized by his former patron and father-in-law, Barezzi, prompting the reply, In my house lives a free, independent woman. There can be little doubt that in Giuseppina, whose very name was the feminine form of Verdis own, the composer had found a genuine soul-mate. She was a woman of great intellect, who had genuine input into the creation of Verdis operas. The two married in 1859 and remained together until her death in 1897. It was during the 1850s that Verdis genius truly manifested itself. Rigoletto (1851) represented a major advance in the art of dramatic story-telling through music. While working on the production of that opera, Verdi became interested in the Spanish play El Trovador and began to take steps to adapt it for the operatic stage. In Stephen Sondheims Merrily We Roll Along, a Broadway librettist is asked Which comes first, the music or the lyrics? to which he replies, The contract. The success of Rigoletto had enabled Verdi to reach a stage in his career where he could conceive of a project before obtaining a contract a luxury never enjoyed by Mozart, for example, who never wrote a piece of music without first obtaining a commission. For the libretto, he contacted Salvatore Cammarano, with whom he had collaborated on three earlier works. Verdis correspondence with Cammarano indicates that he was trying to take operatic composition in a new direction: If in opera there were no cavatinas or duets or trios or choruses or finales etc. and the whole opera were only a single number, I would find this most reasonable and right. Some critics have blamed Cammaranos artistic conservatism for the fact that this ideal is not even closely realized in Il Trovatore, but it might be more accurate to say that the play itself was not a good subject for this novel approach. As it was, Camarrano had to greatly condense the action and

eliminate several characters from the original to create a workable libretto. It was only at the end of his career, when Verdi was free of financial and commercial restraints, that he was to achieve this ideal in Falstaff. Progress on the opera stalled in July, 1852 when the librettist died suddenly, leaving the libretto unfinished, though the bulk of the work had already been done. A young playwright, Leone Emanuele Bardare, was hired to complete the work, though out of respect for Cammarano, Bardares name was not included on the printed libretto. With a touch of generosity typical of Verdi, he paid Camarranos widow more than the previously contracted sum for the incomplete libretto. For the premiere, Verdi chose Rome, because only there could he find a singer whom he considered adequate for the role of Azucena. The opening on January 19, 1853 was an unqualified triumph. By the third performance, it had become such a sensation that members of the audience escorted the composer to his quarters with a torchlight parade and serenaded him through much of the night with a band that played melodies from his operas. Some years later Verdi wrote, Go the Indes or the heart of Africa, and you will hear Il Trovatore. The Paris premiere at that citys Italian Opera theater came in 1855, and two years later a revised, French-language version, Le Trouvere, premiered at the Paris Opera. It was Il Trovatore which cemented Verdis reputation in the United States as well. Perhaps as a tribute to its popularity, it soon became the subject of numerous theatrical parodies, at least one of which was attended by the composer himself. While working on Il Trovatore, Verdi had also been composing La Traviata, which initially received a less enthusiastic reception due to a weak cast, though Verdis perfectionism caused him to exaggerate the alleged failure of the first production. The work soon came to be recognized as the masterpiece is it considered to be to this day. In the years which followed, Verdi continued to advance the art of opera, gradually abandoning the hit song approach in favor of the continuous style of music he had written of in his correspondence with Cammarano. Among his later triumphs were Simon Boccanegra (1857), A Masked Ball (1859), The Force of Destiny (1862), Don Carlo (1867), and

Aida (1871), after which he attempted to retire from composing, only to be drawn out of retirement fifteen years later, when he had the opportunity of collaborating with the great librettist Arregio Boito on two adaptations of Shakespeares plays, Othello and Falstaff. Italians today revere Verdi not only as a composer but also as a great Italian patriot, who was deeply concerned for the future of a nation which, throughout much of his life, was actually a conglomeration of several separate states linked only by geographical proximity and linguistic ties. He was active in the Risorgimento, a movement calling for the establishment of an Italian nation. Because of the role his music had played in supporting this movement, he was selected to serve in the Italian parliament, which he did briefly, though he played a largely ceremonial role. Several of his operas reflect the goals of the Risorgimento: the Va pensiero chorus of Nabucco (previously discussed), the Patria opressa chorus from Macbeth, cries of Viva Italia in La battaglie di Legnano, and the scene in Simon Boccanegra in which the title character admonishes his senate that their loyalty must be to Italy, not Venice. In his final years, Verdi devoted much of his time to the establishment of a retirement home for opera singers, an institution that stands to this day. He died in January, 1901, and while he had asked for a simple funeral, when his body (along with Strepponis) was transferred to Rome the following month, a national day of mourning was declared and mourners lined the streets. Spontaneously, they joined together to sing the song which had first united them in love of Italy Va pensiero.

tHe StOryteLLerS
Salvatore Cammarano, who wrote the libretto for Il Trovatore, was born in Naples on March 19, 1801. As a young man he enjoyed an active career in the theater, initially as a writer of spoken plays. In his early thirties he secured the position of stage director at the royal theaters in Naples, which gave him the opportunity to hone his skills a playwright. He first became involved in opera revising the works of others, but he soon turned to libretto writing on his own. His early attempts at such writing went nowhere, but in 1835 he achieved his first mega-hit when he collaborated with Gaetano Donizetti on Lucia di Lammermoor, and from that time on he became one of Italys most sought-after librettists. He had several more collaborations with Donizetti, most notably Poliuto and Roberto Devereux, and he provided a number of librettos for Pacini (not to be confused with Puccini) and Mercadante, two of the most popular composers of their time, though their works are rarely produced today. Alzira (1845) was his first collaboration with Verdi, and he followed it with the librettos for La battaglia di Legnano and Luisa Miller, both in 1849. Il Trovatore is one of two works, along with Lucia, for which he is primarily remembered today. He had also been working on a libretto for Verdis planned operatic treatment of King Lear, a project which the composer considered for much of his career but never completed. The composers with whom Cammarano worked showed great respect for his skill and rarely demanded extensive revisions as they did for other librettists. Though he never created a libretto from whole cloth, preferring to adapt existing stories, his knowledge of stagecraft enabled him to breathe new life into old tales. Cammarano died July 17, 1852, in Naples, leaving the libretto of Il Trovatore unfinished. Antonio Garcia Gutierrez, upon whose play Il Trovatore is based, was born in Spain on October 4, 1813. After briefly studying medicine, he moved to Madrid in 1833 and earned his living as a translator while writing

El Trovador, which had its premiere in 1836. This immediately earned him the reputation as one of the leading playwrights of the Romantic era. His 1843 play Simon Boccanegra was also adapted into an opera by Verdi. In the late 1840s he emigrated to the Western hemisphere, working as a journalist in both Cuba and Mexico, until his return to Spain in 1850, where he continued his writing while directing an archeological museum in Madrid. Today he is regarded as one of the leading Spanish dramatists of the nineteenth century. He died in Madrid on August 26, 1884.

VerdiS VOcaL StyLe


One of the principal reasons that Verdi has been so influential is his contribution to the development of the various voice types. Il Trovatore was pivotal in opera history because it was here that the composer introduced the Verdi mezzo in the person of Azucena. More than any other composer, Verdi developed the mezzo (deep female voice) as a distinct vocal type, rather than just a soprano with low notes. Whereas Rossini, who prior to Verdi was the most prominent composer for the mezzo voice, focused on the agility of the voice, Verdi exploited its dramatic potential. Sopranos sometimes tackle Rossini mezzo roles, such as that of Rosina in The Barber of Seville. No soprano, however, would ever be cast as Azucena. Opera critic Anne Midgette calls Azucena an antihero, like Rigoletto: Neither could have been personified by a soprano or a tenor. Azucena was the first in a long line of Verdi mezzos including the Gypsies Ulrica (actually a contralto, an even deeper voice) in A Masked Ball and Preziosilla in The Force of Destiny. He continued with Eboli in Don Carlo and Amneris in Aida. Leonora is one of the earliest dramatic sopranos, with a style of music requiring a deeper resonance than that of the coloratura songbirds of an earlier era. At this point, Verdi had not totally abandoned the earlier style of writing. Gilda, in Rigoletto, is a classic bel-canto coloratura singer and Violetta, in La Traviata, has some elements of the old style as well. Leonora, on the other hand, is a purely dramatic soprano, a fore-runner of Aida, Amelia, and Desdemona. On the masculine side, Verdi was principally responsible for the development of the heroic tenor voice that made tenors the superstars of the operatic world, down to the recent Three Tenors phenomenon. In the words of opera critic Rodolfo Celletti, The Verdi tenor symbolizes noble youth in rebellion against an evil social and political orderor struggling against class prejudicesagainst racial prejudices. Manricos courageous personality represents the Verdi tenor in all his glory. Verdi also expected more of his tenors than had earlier composers. Bellini and Donizetti wrote music with even more high notes, but during their era, tenors sang those high notes in a falsetto voice, whereas the dramatic demands of Verdis music required these high notes to be expressed at full power.

Verdi also made significant use of the lower-voiced male singers. Basses sometimes represented villains, such as Sparafucile in Rigoletto. More significant was the Verdi baritone, whose potential Verdi exploited for its dramatic possibilities. Count di Luna is the prototypical Verdi baritone. Because they carry such dramatic weight, Verdi baritones are generally required to sing at a slightly higher pitch than those of earlier composers.

tHe exOtic
Verdi appears to have been especially fascinated with Spain. While he traveled extensively in connection with productions of his operas, Spain was the only foreign country he visited just for pleasure. Il Trovatore is one of five operas he set in that country, the others being Alzira, Ernani, and Don Carlo (along with its French version, Don Carlos) and The Force of Destiny. Peter Conrad stated that for Verdi, Spain was an overheated extension of Italy a place of honor-bound vows and vendettas, with mountains where gypsies wander and penitents punish the flesh in caves. In short, Spain is Italy with the veneer of civilization stripped away. Paradoxically, while there is no real Spanish operatic tradition several composers have set operas there. (Spain does have a form of musical drama called Zarzuella, but this is closer to operetta than to opera). Perhaps this is because Spain strikes them as an exotic locale, one not quite as remote as the Middle East or Orient. The various operas based on Beaumarchais Figaro trilogy most famously, Rossinis The Barber of Seville and Mozarts The Marriage of Figaro are set in and around Seville. Perhaps this locale appealed to Beaumarchais because it represented a somewhat more primitive lifestyle than his native France, one where women were subjugated to men in ways supposedly alien to northern Europe (a major plot point in the first two plays). Mozart and Da Ponte returned to Seville for their second collaboration, Don Giovanni, seeing it as the ideal locale for a ghost story. The most famous opera with a Spanish locale, of course, is Bizets Carmen, an opera whose violent passions seem at home in this locale. Other Spanish-themed operas of note include Massenets Le Cid, Beethovens Fidelio, Handels Rodrigo, Prokovievs Betrothal in a Monastery, and several adaptations of Spains most famous literary work, Don Quixote, most notably Massenets Don Quichotte and Mitch Leighs Man of La Mancha, a Broadway music drama that has enough operatic features to be worthy of performance by several opera companies, including a 1989 Lyric Opera of Kansas City production. The other exotic element in this opera is the inclusion of a band of Gypsies, a minority group that held a particular fascination for Verdi. While many Europeans have been fascinated by this subculture of people who for many years wandered through the world with little attachment to the

nations in which they sojourned, few opera composers other than Verdi paid them much attention. Given the popularity of Bizets Carmen, it is surprising to find how rare Gypsies are in opera. The hero of Mascagnis Lamico Fritz has a Gypsy friend, and Johann Strauss II wrote an operetta called The Gypsy Baron, but most other examples are mere footnotes in the annals of opera. (Emmerich Kalmans operetta The Gypsy Princess is not about real Gypsies. Madame Flora in Menottis The Medium has many outward trappings of a Gypsy as befits her profession, but she is not identified as an actual Gypsy). It appears that Verdis compassion for oppressed people caused him to identify with this ethnic group. Verdi most likely observed the itinerant Gypsy traveling merchants and blacksmiths who traveled throughout the small towns of Italy when he was a child. The opening scene of Il Trovatore appears to be intended to ridicule the superstitions people had about Gypsies. Biscay, the region where Manrico and Azucena live, was more hospitable to Gypsies than were other parts of Spain, which may explain Manricos loyalty to the rebel cause. Gypsies appear primarily as fortune-tellers, including Preziosilla in The Force of Destiny and Ulrica in A Masked Ball. Gypsy dancers also appear in the party scene in La Traviata, though it is not clear if they are a hired Gypsy dance troupe or merely party guests in disguise. Given the tragic history of this ethnic group, which was virtually wiped out in the Holocaust, maybe another great Gypsy opera lies in the future.

BiBLiOGrapHy
Berger, William. Verdi with a Vengeance. New York: Vintage, 2000. Celletti, Rodolfo. On Verdis Vocal Writing. In The Verdi Companion. Ed. William Weaver and Martin Chusid. New York: WW Norton & Co., 1979. Conrad, Peter. A Song of Love and Death: The Meaning of Opera. New York: Poseidon Press, 1987. -----. Verdi and/or Wagner. London: Thames and Hudson, 2011. Hughes, Spike. Famous Verdi Operas. Philadelphia: Chilton Book Co, 1968. Lee, M. Owen. A Season of Opera. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998. Martin, George. Verdi: His Music, Life and Times. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1963. McCants, Clyde T. Rigoletto, Trovatore and Traviata: Verdis Middle Period Masterpieces On and Off the Stage. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2009. Midgette, Anne. Bloodline. Opera News, 14 Feb. 1998. P. 28 ff. Operacolorado.org. The Playwright: Antonio Garcia Gurierrez. Osborne, Charles. The Complete Operas of Verdi. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970. Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane. Verdi: A Biography. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1993. -----. Wild Thing. Opera News. 14 Feb 1998. P. 14 ff. Von Buchau, Stephanie. Verdis Il Trovatore. (Chicago) Lyric Opera Companion. Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1991: 408-413.
Some portions of this booklet have been reprinted from earlier booklets in this series. Copyright 2012 by Lyric Opera of Kansas City