Verdi's Il Trovatore is notorious for its complicated — even incomprehensible — plot. F. Paul Driscoll, the editor-in-chief of Opera News, reminds us that “it’s a plot that was satirized by Gilbert and Sullivan in HMS Pinafore.” After all it’s opera, right? So what if the plot is a little bit far-fetched? The music is absolutely glorious. There are hit tunes throughout and memorable scenes galore. And after over 150 years, the opera remains one of the most performed in the world.
In this edition of Opera in Brief, F. Paul shares three of his favorite show-stopping moments from Verdi’s masterpiece:
1. The Scene: “Stride la vampa”
It's the first huge show stopper of the night. The gypsy Azucena tells the story of her mother who was accused of being a sorceress, condemned to death and burned alive. This aria helps set up the revenge plot that moves the action for the rest of the show. Verdi creates the scene in front of our eyes with this narrative. You sense the mounting anger and the fact that this woman is obsessed with avenging her mother.
Fedora Barbieri was probably the leading Verdi mezzo soprano of her day. It’s a little chesty and a little fast, but that’s the way to stop the show!
2. The Scene: The “Miserere”
The leading soprano role is Leonora, who is a Spanish noblewoman. She is loved by the title character – the mysterious troubadour Manrico – and she’s also loved by the Count di Luna. She has divine music. It requires a great deal of poise, technical facility and what we call profile in a voice. It’s not a question of volume; it’s a question of having a voice which has a strong identifiable sound.
Leontyne Price recorded this particular version in 1959 when she was sweeping through all of the major opera houses of Europe and had not yet made her Met debut. She eventually did make her Met debut in this role in 1961. Legend has it that the ovation was 40 minutes long.
3. The Scene: “Di quella pira”
It's Manrico’s song about going out to avenge his mother. This is a sensational moment with chorus, high C’s, swords flashing and legs in tights!
Franco Corelli was an Italian tenor and he made his debut at the Met the same night that Leontyne Price did in Il Trovatore. Manrico was his signature role.