Dramma lirico in four acts (1853)
Salvatore Cammarano and Leone Emmanuele Bardare
based on the drama »El trovador« by Antonio García Gutiérrez
Fascinated by the »strong situations« that arose from this bizarre constellation of plots and characters as well as the »boldness and novelty of the Spanish play«, Giuseppe Verdi created a work full of enrapturing bel canto numbers and elaborately dramatic orchestral parts that met with wild enthusiasm. The opera’s erratic and rather implausible plot was frequently and justifiably criticised, but scenes of atrocities, vengeance, madness, jealousy, love, despair and hate offered the composer an occasion to compose the extremely expressive melodies, emotionally charged arias and dramatic choruses that make »Il trovatore« a truly enthralling festival of song.
In 15th century Spain, a conflict has broken out over succession to the throne between Ferdinand, the designated successor, and the Duke of Urgel. Count Luna favors Ferdinand, while Manrico supports the troops of the rebellious Urgel. Both love Leonora, a lady of the court. What the two enemies cannot know is that they are both brothers, because Manrico was stolen by a gypsy woman 15 years ago and raised as her own child.
PART ONE – The Duel
Count Luna jealously keeps watch each night at the balcony of his loved one. In the meantime, Ferrando, a captain of the count, tells his soldiers horrific stories of the House of Luna. The old count had two sons; the younger one was enchanted by a gypsy, who was then burned at the stake for her deed. The daughter of the gypsy then kidnapped the enchanted boy out of revenge, burning him to death. The current count, the brother of the kidnapped child, had to swear to his father that he would seek out the murderess his whole life long. And the ghost of the old gypsy still continued to haunt the castle.
In the deep of the night: Inez wants to remind her mistress Leonora of her courtly duties. But the latter confesses that she is waiting for Manrico. She fell in love with the younger man when he won a joust, then lost him from sight. Now he has returned from the battlefield and sings to her nightly. And his singing then sounds from the darkness. Ecstatically, Leonora rushes to meet her troubadour, but in the darkness falls into the arms of Luna. When Manrico appears, enraged, the count sees not only his competitor, but also a political enemy in the civil war. A life or death duel takes place, but the victorious Manrico is unable to kill the count.
PART TWO –The Gypsy
Morning twilight: somewhere in the distance, a group of gypsies has taken up camp. For some time now, the old Azucena has been tortured by memories of her mother’s fiery death. She tells her wounded son Manrico how she once kidnapped the son of the count, but then threw her own child into the flames because she was left bewildered by the death of her own mother. Manrico thus begins to realize that he could not be Azucena’s son, but she successfully distracts him with prevarications.
A messenger arrives: Manrico is to defend the fortress Castellor. Leonora decides to enter the convent, because she thinks her own lover has been dead since the duel. Manrico is furious and rushes off, ignoring the pleas of his mother.
Count Luna lurks outside the cloister. He wants to kidnap Leonora, who is preparing to take on the habit. A confusing struggle results when Manrico also arrives with his troops. Finally, Manrico is able to take Leonora to Castellor.
PART THREE – The Son of the Gypsy
Luna holds a siege against Castellor, defended by Manrico. Outside the walls, Azucena goes in search of her son. She is arrested as a spy and brought before Luna. But Ferrando recognizes the woman that once enchanted the younger brother of the count and burned him to death. Azucena is tortured and condemned to death by burning at the stake. Manrico and Leonora prepare an emergency wedding on the castle, when unexpectedly the news of Azucena’s conviction arrives. Manrico decides to save his mother.
PART FOUR – The Execution
Manrico’s attempt to free his mother fails. He is now also imprisoned with his mother; his sad songs can be heard from far off in the distance. Leonora, who was able to escape, wants to liberate him. She appears before Count Luna, and asks him to pardon Manrico. When he refuses, she offers herself in exchange for Manrico’s life. But secretly, Leonora takes poison to escape the count’s passion. Imprisoned, the dying Azucena is tortured by dark visions. Manrico is able to calm her; both dream of their old homeland. Already weakened, Leonora appears in the prison and tries to convince Manrico to flee. Because she does not want to flee with him, Manrico thinks she has been unfaithful. It is only when she dies in his arms that he understands that she has sacrificed herself for him.
Luna, who has observed the scene, now would like to make short shrift of his competitor and has him executed. After his death, Azucena tells him that he has killed his brother. She has now avenged her mother: the count is left stunned.