The Met Streams Verdi’s Il Trovatore #2

By Lynne Gray, PhD

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

Tuesday, July 7

Verdi’s Il Trovatore #2  ~ 2Hrs 13Mins

Starring Éva Marton, Dolora Zajick, Luciano Pavarotti, and Sherrill Milnes, conducted by James Levine. From October 15, 1988.

Tonight we have Trovatore #2 – a truly wonderful classic from 1988 – and an extraordinary opportunity to see Reno’s very own world-class opera star, Dolora Zajick, in one of her earliest Met appearances! 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 pot-boiler, Il Trovatore — all you need are the four best singers in the world. In the wrong hands this opera, with its crazily twisted and nearly unintelligible plot can be a boring disaster. In this 1988 telecast, however, the Met sought to take Caruso’s advice, assembling an exceptional quartet of the world’s greatest singers to tackle the daunting principal roles: soprano Éva Marton (we saw her as Elsa in Lohengrin), Reno’s superstar mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick, the legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti, and the great Verdi baritone Sherrill Milnes. The four stars thrillingly showcase Verdi’s amazing score, packed from beginning to end with memorable arias, dramatic duets, and rousing ensemble and choral numbers.

Luciano Pavarotti brings his spectacular voice to one of the most famous of all tenor roles—Manrico, the ardent troubadour of the title, trapped in an impossible situation by forces far beyond his control. The sensational Dolora Zajick, only days after her Met debut, gives an incandescent performance as the troubled gypsy Azucena, still thirsting for revenge against the Count di Luna (Sherrill Milnes) for his father’s long-past cruelty to her mother. Éva Marton is the passionate Leonora, pursued by both Manrico and the Count. James Levine leads the Met’s orchestra and chorus in some of Verdi’s best-known music. 

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 Azucena, in a moment of abject terror and distress had mistakenly swapped two babies – one she killed and the other she raised as her own. As a consequence, two brothers have grown up as mortal enemies, each ignorant of the existence of the other. And to make matters even worse, they happen to now be in love with the same woman. Azucena’s (played by Dolora Zajick), tragic story is well worth trying to follow to its rather dismal ending – but don’t worry about it too much – you can also sit back and enjoy the music. 

A very quick summary – 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 ago, an old gypsy was wrongfully 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 had been burnt 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 by the sight of her burning mother succeeded in abducting the sickly di Luna baby and, in her madness and grief, tossing 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. As he was dying, the father 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 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, which 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 (Trio: “Di geloso amor sprezzato” (The fire of jealous love). 

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) has taken him to the gypsy camp and nursed 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. 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 kidnapped his son), she became so disoriented and confused that she threw her child into the flames instead of the Count’s. Horrified, Manrico of course realizes that he is not the son of Azucena but of the old Count di Luna – and therefore, he is 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, was 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 abduct Leonora and prevent her from entering the convent. We are treated to his famous aria of love for her right before Manrico arrives and again bests the Count – once again, however, declining 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” 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. 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 when she is dying in his arms. Di Luna arrives to see 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. Luciano Pavarotti and Éva Marton as Manrico and Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 1988. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

2. Sherrill Milnes as Count di Luna in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 1988. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

3. Éva Marton as Leonora in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 1988. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

4. Dolora Zajick as Azucena in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 1988. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

5. Dolora Zajick as Azucena and Luciano Pavarotti as Manrico in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 1988. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

6. Luciano Pavarotti as Manrico in Verdi’s “Il Trovatore” at the Metropolitan Opera, 1988. Photo Credit: The Metropolitan Opera archives.

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