A Opera in 4 Acts | Composer: Giuseppe Verdi | Librettists: Salvatore Cammarano
Based on a play by Antonio Garcia Gutierrez
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Runtime: 2 hrs 30 mins, with one 15-min intermission.
Language: Italian | Surtitle: Chinese / English
Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901)
Giuseppe Verdi was born on 10 October 1813 at Roncole, a village in the duchy of Parma. His musical talent was recognized early in childhood. He was appointed organist of the parish church at the young age of 10 and was soon sent to the neighbouring town of Busseto to study music. With the support of a generous patron, Verdi proceeded to Milan for further studies in 1832, but was rejected by the Milan Conservatory because he was overaged. He became a private pupil of Vincenzo Lavigna who gave him a thorough preparation in counterpoint and harmony before he returned to Busseto as municipal music master and conductor of the town’s philharmonic society. At the age of 25, Verdi again went to Milan with his young family. His first opera, Oberto (1839), was produced at La Scala with some success, but his next work, a comic opera, was a failure. Depressed by the death of his wife and two children, Verdi decided
to give up composing. He was encouraged by the director of La Scala and the prima donna Giuseppina Strepponi to compose Nabucco (1842), which created a sensation.
Its subject matter dealt with the Babylonian captivity of the Jews, and the Italian public regarded it as a symbol of their own struggle against Austrian rule in northern Italy. Over the next eight years, Verdi produced 12 operas, among which I Lombardi (1843), Ernani (1844), Macbeth (1847), La Battaglia di Legnano (1849) and Luisa Miller (1849) were the outstanding successes. By this time, Strepponi had retired from the stage and lived with him until her death in 1897. They married in 1859. Meanwhile, Verdi’s reputation as the greatest composer of Italy had spread wide across Europe and his artistic achievements had become increasingly identified with the spirit of his own people whom he entertained, inspired, moved and sustained with his music.
Verdi reached the zenith of his international fame with Rigoletto (1851), Il Trovatore (1853) and La Traviata (1853), which became the perennial favorites of the entire operatic repertoire. Works of maturity that followed include Un Ballo in Maschera (1859), La Forza del Destino (1862), Don Carlo (1867) and Aïda (1871). In his seventies, Verdi produced the supreme expression of his genius Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893). Both composed to librettos skillfully adapted from Shakespeare by Arrigo Boito, they were generally considered the greatest among all tragic and comic operas, respectively.
Verdi’s name had become synonymous with Italian patriotism and he contributed directly to the ‘risorgimento’ and the subsequent establishment of Italy as an independent and unified nation. He was appointed to the Parliament and served in the Senate of the new kingdom in 1861. He died at the age of 87 on 27 January 1901, in Milan.
In the early 15th Century, King Martin of Aragon died without naming an heir. A civil war broke out
among rivalling factions of the nobility vying for the throne. The events of the opera occurred in the
Aliaferia Palace in Zaragoza, around the fortress at Castellor and in the mountains of Biscay.
Act I: The Duel
Count di Luna and his royalist followers give protection to the widow-queen at Zaragoza. Old captain Ferrando tells his men how the Count’s father burned a gypsy witch, whose daughter abducted one of
his sons in revenge. The old Count charged the present Count to seek his lost brother. It is rumoured that the ghost of the old witch still haunts the palace at night.
In a courtyard of the Aliaferia Palace, Leonora tells her companion Inez how she fell in love with a knight who frequently comes to serenade her in the guise of a troubadour. After the ladies retire, the Count arrives hoping to tell Leonora of his affection for her. The troubadour also appears and reveals himself as Manrico, commander of a rivalling faction. The Count challenges him to a duel. Leonora tries to stop them in vain.
Act II: The Gypsy
Manrico has won the duel but has spared the Count’s life. He is wounded, however, in a subsequent battle and is recuperating. Azucena, Manrico’s mother, tells of her own mother’s burning, and of how she threw her own child into the flames instead of the Count’s son. Ruiz tells Manrico that Leonora, believing him dead, will enter a convent. Manrico rushes out to prevent Leonora from taking her vows.
The Count tries to abduct Leonora, but Manrico intervenes and overpowers the Count’s soldiers.
Manrico takes Leonora to his fortress at Castellor.
Act III: The Gypsy’s Son
The Count has captured Azucena, whom Ferrando recognizes as the baby-snatcher. Count di Luna orders to have Azucena burnt alive at the stake.
As Manrico and Leonora prepare to wed, Manrico is told that Azucena is to be burned, and goes to rescue her.
Act IV: The Torture
Manrico has failed in his attempt to rescue his mother and is imprisoned with Azucena in the towers of the Aliaferia Palace. Leonora offers herself to the Count to save Manrico. The Count is delighted to accept the bargain, but Leonora swallows the poison hidden in her ring unnoticed.
Inside the prison, mother and son recall happier days in the mountains. When Leonora comes to tell Manrico he is free, he suspects betrayal and repulses her. She died as the poison takes effect. The Count has Manrico executed – and Azucena reveals that he has killed his own brother. Her
mother is avenged!
The Dramatic and Musical Structure of Il Trovatore
Antonio Garcia Gutierrez (1813-1884) was 23 years old when he suddenly sprang into fame as the author of a drama entitled El Trovador (The Troubadour) which was performed for the first time in Madrid in the spring of 1836. The play is considered as one of the leading works of the Romantic movement in Spanish literature.
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) probably came to know about El Trovador through his lifelong companion and future second wife, the retired prima donna Giuseppina Strepponi, who wrote an Italian summary of the play’s scenario for him. Soon after the premiere of Rigoletto in March 1851, the composer was engaged in active correspondence with Salvatore Cammarano (1801-1852) on the adaptation of Gutierrez’s play into a libretto for his next opera, Il Trovatore. From the outset, Verdi had been deeply impressed by the character of Azucena and had considered naming the opera after her.
Cammarano was an excellent librettist in the tradition of classical Italian opera. He proposed a succinct condensation of the original drama that fitted well with a formal structure of scenes according to the 19th century operatic convention. Verdi was satisfied with Cammarano’s drafts and the final dramatic structure agreed upon has the story retold in four acts each carrying a subtitle relevant to the main theme of the act. The first is labelled ‘The Duel’, focussing on the rivalry between the hero Manrico and his enemy the Count di Luna. The second is called ‘The Gypsy’, concentrating on the character of Azucena. The third act is subtitled ‘The Gypsy’s Son’, highlighting the maternal-filial love between Azucena and Manrico. The final fourth act is known as ‘The Torture’, referring to the execution of the hero and the self-sacrifice of Leonora.
Within this structure, every act consists of two scenes each assigned to a leading character, allowing every principle singer at least one full set of recitatives, aria and cabaletta to display his or her vocal prowess and technical strengths. The first scene has the old army captain Ferrando recalling the incident of a gypsy woman being burnt at the stake and her daughter’s act of revenge. The second scene is devoted to the lyrical expression of Leonora’s love for the unknown troubadour, concluding with an exciting trio for the principal soprano, tenor and baritone. The third features the famous ‘Anvil Chorus’ and a long dramatic duet between Azucena and Manrico. The fourth contains ‘one of the world’s most celebrated baritone arias’ and a grandiose choral finale. The fifth scene concentrates on the half-demented Azucena being captured by the Count. The sixth is dedicated to the tenor, allowing him a mellifluous declaration of love to Leonora and a rousing war cry to save his mother. The seventh scene features one of Verdi’s most moving and demanding soprano arias sustained on intense emotion and unsurpassed lyrical beauty. The final eighth scene presents a nostalgic duet and a trio of deep pathos bringing the opera to a powerful dramatic ending.
This ingenious structure enabled Giuseppe Verdi to produce a supreme expression in music of the romantic, passionate drama of chivalry. Il Trovatore is positively the most successful realization of a ‘singers’ opera’. With its wealth of melody, vitality, humanity and sincerity, it remains one of the greatest works of art Verdi ever created.