The Met Streams Verdi’s ‘Il Trovatore’

By Lynne Gray, PhD

Please note this can be seen at www.metopera.org

Viewing Note: On the Met’s home page, you now need to scroll down past the multiple ads for Pay Per View concerts and the [BUY TICKETS] boxes and go to the box that says “Nightly Opera Stream: <name of opera> and click on [WATCH NOW].

Thursday, July 30

Verdi’s Il Trovatore ~ 2Hrs 29 Mins

Starring Sondra Radvanovsky, Dolora Zajick, Marcelo Álvarez, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, conducted by Marco Armiliato. From April 30, 2011.

Tonight we have Trovatore #3 – and yet another extraordinary opportunity to see Reno’s very own world-class opera superstar, Dolora Zajick, in one of her signature roles. It is truly a tribute to Dolora that she is the only star who appears in all three versions of this Verdi classic (from 1988 to 2015) that the Met has streamed. She was the Met’s “go-to” Azucena for 30 years – an amazing accomplishment – so amazing, in fact, that the Met presented her with a gold plated anvil a couple of years ago when she retired the role! Last March, we were able to hear her sing this role with Anna Netrebko, Yonghoon Lee, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and on the 7th of this month, she heard her sing it with Luciano Pavarotti, Eva Marton, and Sherill Milnes!

The clichéd old quip about this opera, attributed to Enrico Caruso, may well be true – that it’s easy to put on a great performance of Verdi’s crazy pot-boiler — all you need are the four best singers in the world. In the wrong hands this opera, with its twisted and nearly unintelligible plot can be a boring disaster. Here again, we have some very great singers and David McVicar’s dramatic production, first seen at the Met in 2009, mirrors the raw emotions that fill Verdi’s turbulent tale of love and revenge by erecting imposing walls and battlements constructed on a giant revolving platform so that the many scene changes can happen without interrupting the action. This evening we have Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora and the outlawed Manrico, with whom she passionately in love, is Marcelo Álvarez. Manrico’s political enemy, the Count di Luna – again sung by Dmitri Hvorostovsky – wants Leonore for himself. Manrico’s mother, the gypsy Azucena, sung of course by Dolora, keeps a horrible family secret. It’s a combustible combination that eventually leads to a tragic outcome. 

McVicar has chosen to leave the setting in Spain, but has moved it up to the Peninsular War (1808–1814). The look of the production was inspired by the work of Francisco Goya—particularly his famous prints “The Disasters of War,” with their haunting depictions of that time, and his nightmarish “Black Paintings.” Although the story is more than a little convoluted and definitely hard to follow, it includes some of Verdi’s most memorable music -Leonora’s “Tacea la notte placida;” the Anvil (or gypsy) Chorus (Coro di Zingari), “Vedi le fosche notturne spoglie;” Manrico’s rousing “Di quella pira;” Azucena’s chilling “Stride la vampa” and Count di Luna’s beautiful “Il balen del suo sorriso.” 

Basically, the tragedy was set in motion long years before the opera’s beginning. The young gypsy girl Azucena, in a moment of abject terror and distress had mistakenly swapped two babies – one she killed in retribution for her mother’s being burned at the stake and the other she raised as her own. As a consequence, two actual brothers have grown up as mortal enemies, each ignorant of the existence of the other. To make matters even worse, they happen to now be in love with the same woman. Azucena’s tragic story is well worth trying to follow to its rather dismal ending – but don’t worry about it too much – you can also just sit back and enjoy the music. 

Once again, here’s a quick summary, so you don’t have to go searching for old ones – Act I is subtitled, The Duel. Spain, in the early 19th century, during the Peninsular WarThe commander of the Royalist Aragon troops, Count di Luna, is obsessed with Leonora, a young noblewoman in the queen’s service, who does not return his love. We learn from his guard that many years before, an old gypsy was accused of having bewitched the Count’s brother, the youngest of the di Luna children. The child had unexplainably fallen sick and because of this, the gypsy was was burned alive as a witch – her protests of innocence ignored. As she was being consumed by the flames, she commanded her young daughter, Azucena, to avenge her. Azucena, horrified and crazed by the sight of her burning mother, succeeded in abducting the sickly di Luna baby but, in her madness and grief, she confused her own son with the Count’s and tossed him into the same flames that had taken her mother. The burnt bones of a child were found in the ashes of the pyre and the senior Count di Luna died of grief soon thereafter believing it was his son who was burned. As he was dying, the Count commanded his firstborn son, the new Count di Luna, to find the young gypsy woman and take revenge upon her – and you know that revenge upon revenge upon revenge never ends well in opera. Meanwhile, back in the present, the young Count has instructed his men to be on the lookout for an unknown troubadour who has been lately serenading Leonora. The jealous Count is determined to capture and punish him for the affront.

Leonora, venturing outside of the castle to search for her troubadour in the darkness, briefly mistakes the Count for her lover – until Manrico himself enters the garden and she rushes into his arms. The angry Count challenges his rival to reveal his true identity, and he does: he is Manrico, a knight now outlawed and under a death sentence for his allegiance to a rival prince. Manrico challenges di Luna to call his guards, but the Count regards this matter as a personal rather than a political vendetta and challenges Manrico to a duel over their common love. Leonora tries to intervene but cannot stop them from going off to fight their duel (Trio: “Di geloso amor sprezzato” (The fire of jealous love). 

Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera Taken during the final dress rehearsal on Febraury 13, 2009 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

At the beginning of Act II, subtitled The Gypsy Woman, we find that during the aforementioned duel, Manrico overpowered the Count, but some powerful force mysteriously held him back from killing his rival. Meanwhile, the war has raged on and the Royalist forces under di Luna have been victorious in the most recent battle. Manrico was badly wounded, but his mother (Azucena) found him on the battlefield and has taken him to the gypsy camp to nurse him back to health. In the camp, we hear the famous Anvil Chorus (Chorus of the Gypsies) followed by Azucena’s harrowing “Stride la vampa” (The flames crackle) when she finally decides it is time for Manrico to hear the truth about his heritage. She describes how, as a young woman, she was overwhelmed by the screams emanating from the gruesome scene of her mother’s execution. In fulfilling her mother’s dying request for vengeance on the old Count (remember, she had found and kidnapped his son), she became so disoriented and confused that she threw her own child into the flames instead of the Count’s. Horrified, Manrico finally realizes that he is not the true son of Azucena, but of the old Count di Luna – making him also the brother of the current Count. He declares he still loves Azucena, however, just as if she were indeed his mother since she has always been loving and faithful to him – and, indeed, saved his life only recently. 

A messenger arrives informing Manrico that his forces have taken the Count’s castle but that his beloved Leonora, believing him dead, is planning to enter a convent and take the veil that very evening. Refusing to listen to Azucena’s warnings, Manrico rushes off to save Leonora. Di Luna and his men are also planning to “save” Leonora by abducting her in order to prevent her from entering the convent. We are treated to the Count’s famous aria of love for Leonora “Il balen del suo sorriso” (The flash of her smile…) right before Manrico arrives and once again bests the Count in a duel – but once again declines to take di Luna’s life.

Act III is subtitled, The Son of the Gypsy – Manrico and Leonora have taken refuge in the captured fortress of Castellor which is now under attack by di Luna and his forces. Di Luna’s men have captured Azucena trying to get to the fortress and she is recognized as the gypsy who murdered the Count’s brother. Azucena cries out to Manrico to rescue her and the Count now realizes that he has captured the means to force his enemy into his hands. He orders his men to build a pyre on which to burn Azucena. Inside, Manrico and Leonora are preparing to be married and she is frightened by the coming battle. As he is reassuring her in a beautiful aria, “Ah sì, ben mio, coll ‘essere” (Ah, yes, my love…) they are interrupted by the news of Azucena’s capture. He rushes to her rescue – singing the famous, “Di quella pira l’orrendo foco” (The horrid flames of that pyre…) and Leonora faints. 

Act IV is subtitled, The Punishment. Manrico has failed in his brash attempt to rescue Azucena and now they are both captives of di Luna and sentenced to death. Leonora is desperately trying to save Manrico and offers herself to di Luna if he will only free Manrico. When he agrees, she secretly swallows poison. Meanwhile, Manrico and Azucena are awaiting execution and he attempts to calm her as her mind wanders to happier days. Leonora comes to tell Manrico that he has been spared and to beg him to escape immediately. Of course, when he discovers that she won’t be joining him, he refuses to leave, believing that she has betrayed him. As the poison takes effect however, he sees the truth and she dies in his arms. Di Luna arrives in time to witness it and orders Manrico’s immediate execution. Coming to her senses, Azucena cries out “Egli era tuo fratello! Sei vendicata, o madre” (He was your brother … You are avenged, oh mother!).

Picture Credits

1. Met General Director, Peter Gelb presents a golden anvil to Dolora Zajick as Azucena following her final performance in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

2. Tenor Marcelo Álvarez as Manrico and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Met, 2011. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera. 

3. Act II (during the Anvil Chorus) of Verdi’s “

Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 2011. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

4. Dolora Zajick as Azucena in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 2011. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

5. Tenor Marcelo Álvarez as Manrico and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Met, 2011. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera. 

6. Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna in Verdi’s “

Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 2011. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

7. Stefan Kocán as Ferrando, Dolora Zajick as Azucena and Dmitri Hvorostovsky as Count di Luna in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 2011. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

8. Tenor Marcelo Álvarez as Manrico and soprano Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Met, 2011. Photo Credit: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera. 

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