Verdi’s Il Trovatore is the transcendental Italian opera of the first half of the 19th century. It is the culmination of that style of operatic writing introduced by Rossini and further advanced by Bellini and most importantly for Verdi’s development Donizetti. That Verdi was moving in a new direction was shown by Rigoletto (1851). That opera was without precedent in Italian opera. It clearly indicated where Verdi would go over the next 40 years of his extraordinary career. Il Trovatore was a look back. In style and construction it is like any other opera written by any of Verdi’s Italian contemporaries. In inspiration it is in another universe.
Verdi wrote this opera at the exact same time that he was writing La Traviata. He would go from one score to the other. The two operas were premiered just six weeks apart in 1853. Traviata was as forward looking as Trovatore was a last effort with the old style of composing. It’s therefore no surprise that the latter was an immediate and spectacular success while the former was a flop. It took revision and some time for Traviata to succeed. It is almost impossible to understand that the same composer could be simultaneously be working on two operas which are so different. And that he could produce a supreme masterpiece with both.
Much has been made over Trovatore’s incredible libretto. A little analysis shows that it’s not so incredible after all. It’s about the id gone wild just as its sister Traviata is about the triumph of the superego. Every one of the four principals of Trovatore is a slave to his emotions. No one is capable of self restraint. Each must act at the extremes of behavior whenever confronted by the slightest event that stresses his emotions. This is the most operatic opera ever written. The music reflects these swings in emotions with what may well be the most inspired score ever written for the stage. The melodic beauty and raw dramatic thrust of Il Trovatore are without equal in opera. It has been called “The Via Crucis of Italian song.” One might just as well say it is Italian opera. Trovatore was the final word on the Italian opera that had proceeded it. After it Verdi would gradually take the art down a new path that only he trod.
Verdi toyed with the idea of calling this opera The Gypsy indicating how central Azucena is to the plot. This is the lady who tosses the wrong baby into the fire much to the delight of a host of second rate British satirists. But we can’t even be sure that she did burn the wrong baby as we only have her word for it and she’s totally insane.
The other female lead, Leonora, kills herself rather than submit to the sexual demands of the baritone. But in the first act she runs towards him and then gives the excuse that she thought he was the tenor. Freud must have loved this opera. The tenor is a fallen Spanish grandee whose pride is cosmic and who spends the entire opera trying in succession to rescue his lover, then his mother, and then his lover again. The end result of all this tumult is that the lovers end up dead.
The baritone, the Count Di Luna, is the most interesting of the four. He is consumed with desire and sexual jealousy. Everything he does increases his frustration. The woman whom he loves beyond sanity kills herself rather than be with him. And if this weren’t enough the opera ends with him thinking he has just beheaded his brother. And perhaps he has. He also gets to sing like an angel. His aria ‘Il balen’ is perhaps the most beautiful ever written for a baritone and is a supreme test for any baritone who attempts to sing it. George Bernard Shaw in his incarnation as a music critic wrote that the Count should never sit down. This injunction against repose results from the torrid agitation that possess the Count.
The title character, Manrico, is the hardest of the four to cast. I have never heard a tenor in performance who had all the part requires. On recordings Jussi Björling was ideal, but though he did sing the role at the Met his voice was a little too small for him to be ideal in a house as large as either the old or new Met.
The standard for Leonora was set more than 50 years ago by Zinka Milanov. No one since has come close. Similarly her coeval Leonard Warren was the ideal Count. Dolora Zajick, the Azucena of the current production, has been just as good as the gypsy Azucena as it’s possible to be for more than 20 years.
The production of Il Trovatore that was presented in HD format today is a revival of that originally mounted at the Met in 2009 with the same four principals. It was the 625th time that the company has staged this seminal opera. Marcelo Álvarez does a workmanlike job as Manrico, but he’s not going to conjure the shade of Jussi Björling. His lovely lyric voice has coarsened such that the lyric moments of his role escape him. ‘Ah! si, ben mio’ lacked legato as well as the two trills often omitted by tenors- Richard Tucker was the only tenor I heard in performance who hit them square on. ‘Di quella pira’ was transposed down a half step as is customary. For some reason Álvarez omitted the second ‘All’armi!’ of the three that conclude the stretta.
Sondra Radvanovsky, as Leonora, had her voice under better control than she did two years ago, but her sound was a little more shrill. Nevertheless she was quite good. She managed ‘D’amor sul’alli rosee’, the supreme test for a Verdi soprano, with sensitivity and a smooth line. On the ZM scale it was about a 7.5. She lacks the rich velvet sound needed for the heavy Verdi soprano roles.
Dolora Zajick, despite her 59 years, is still the best Verdi mezzo around. Her voice was firm, focused, and powerful. She projected the full force of the demented gypsy out for blood and vengeance. She sounded better than she did two years ago. Remarkable!
Dmitri Hvorostovsky, who was disappointing as the Count in 2009 was in spectacular form this afternoon. His voice was refulgent, his top notes ringing, and his vocal line nuanced. His reading of ‘Il balen’ was followed by a deserved ovation. His characterization of the eros possessed nobleman was as good as his singing. He didn’t sit down. A great performance.
Bass Stefan Kocán showed a rich lyric voice and acted his part convincingly. The compirmario roles were all well handled. Marco Armiliato conducted with vigor and passion.
David McVicar’s staging moved the opera forward a few centuries, but this had little effect on the production’s effectiveness. He used a set on a turntable that allowed the scene changes to flow from one to the next without lowering the curtain. Doing the four act opera with only one intermission improved the overall impact of the piece.
In summary an excellent performance of an opera which makes almost impossible demands on its principals.
Giuseppe Verdi–Salvatore Cammarano
Count Di Luna………..Dmitri Hvorostovsky
Set Designer…………Charles Edwards
Costume Designer……..Brigitte Reiffenstuel
Lighting Designer…….Jennifer Tipton
Stage Director……….Paula Williams
* Verdi’s Il Trovatore is the transcendental Italian opera of the first half of the 19th century.
* That opera was without precedent in Italian opera.
* In style and construction it is like any other opera written by any of Verdi’s Italian contemporaries. In inspiration it is in another universe.
* This is the most operatic opera ever written. The music reflects these swings in emotions with what may well be the most inspired score ever written for the stage.
* The melodic beauty and raw dramatic thrust of Il Trovatore is without equal in opera.
Wow ! I may have to drop everything and get myself a recording of ‘Il Trovatore’ immediately.
Would you believe that I’ve never heard a single note of ‘Il Trovatorte’ ? (minus the ubiquitous ‘Anvil Chorus’ of course)
I am a longtime fanatic of Don Carlo, Aida, Otello and Falstaff but I’ve never sat down with any of his early/middle operas.
Thanks for this review.
I sleep thru Traviata (I find the characters so boring)……but Trovatore is sooooo much fun, so extreme. You nailed it, “Raw dramatic thrust.” If I could only mix and match my favorite singers for my dream cast. Corelli of course for Manrico…..and that was his Met debut with Price. I have a couple of live Trovatores with those 2…….very hot!!
And the third of that trio, Rigoletto, where unlike the other 2, I get so tuned to the characters that even after 50 years of listening, I still cry at the end.
You jogged my memory… As a kid I went to a tiny artsy theatre and saw an old Italian movie of Trovatore… I think the tenor voice was Tagliavini. And I thought this must be what old westerns were based on. “They went thisaway!! They went thataway!!
how about Franco COrelli?
I like your review, i have just read some comments somewhere on an opera blog where various people compare Trovatore to f.e. RIchard Strauss operas and say, that a real conoisseur prefers Strauss and Trovatore isnt for people who really understand opera. So thank you so much for your review, i almost doubted my good taste after reading those comments as i love Il Trovatore:)
I was really impressed with Dmitri Hvorostovsky in this performance.
Corelli was great as Manrico. What kept him from being the ideal Manrico was Ah! Si ben mio.
????? Are you refering to a specific performance and/or the studio recording? Having several versions I cannot understand a problem. Warm, vibrant, and extremely passionate.
I will admit he makes Handel sound like verismo, but then, that’s the only way I can stand Handel.
We’re talking ideal – the two trills in the aria are not even hinted at either in the studio or in performance. Tucker takes them with ease, but he hits the consonants a little hard and roles his ‘r’s too much. His 1971 Met broadcast shows him in great form considering his age. Bjoerling, who also omitted the trills, probably comes closest to the ideal Manrico – but only on records. Corelli is great in the role, but again the specification was ‘ideal’. The two trills are not just ornaments the music cries out for them.
I just never did miss Verdi tenor trills. I note them if they are there. Certain Rossini roles, however, I might be more particular. Incidentally, I had a very hard time just getting used to soprano trills. When Tebaldi sings D’amor Sul ali rose, I do note the lack of trill. The trills are so integrated in that aria.
who is your ideal di luna:-)?
Leonard Warren. No other baritone was even close.
I didn’t totally appreciate him from recordings. It was live performance tapes that I found so exciting.
thank you 🙂 and who do you like most as di Luna , out of active singers? or who of them do you think would be best for this role ?
Hvorostovsky is the best Di Luna, in my opinion, around today. But the Verdi baritone should be on the Endangered Species List.
well, this baritone is worth protecting :))), i agree.
Before Hvorostovsky I never appreciated Songs and Dances of Death by Mussorgsky. He has such intensity. Of today’s singers my choice for Di Luna.
look on youtube, find the videos of montreal 1998, he sings this cycle there really incredibly:)
Luna? He is Luna of today, of course:))))
I love to share stories about how music works and how composers bring their ideas to life. pls. i need extract part of orchestral, we want to perform it but is not available, we only have full score no extract.
I have the Montreal concert. The Mexico concert also shows a great sense of humour with the Largo al Factotum, far more that Montreal (tho I haven’t found a good quality copy yet). He can do both extremes…
My pro picks: For “Ah! Si ben mio” (with beautiful trills) – Bergonzi; for “Deserto sulla terra” and “Di quella pira” – Corelli; for “D’amor sull’ ali rosee” – Price. There’s a liner note somewhere that says the audience applauded for 45 minutes(!) after hearing Leontyne in this aria. That doesn’t seem credible but this particular recording was an epic performance.
Keep those thoughts coming, Dr K!
Before making up your mind listen to this: D’amor sull’ali rosee.
*** “D’amor sull’ ali rosee” – Price.*** God yes!! She is sooooooo sultry. I heard her live in Ernani. I think I would love prime Moffo also……..if she ever sang it. I heard her in a comcert of amazing variety.
I love Bjorling’s voice, but visually, Jose Cura is the one Manrico I really enjoyed watching. Leonard Warren, very good, but I’ll take Hvorostovsy any day. I actually have this recording and forgot where it was. I forgot that I really liked Fedora Barbieri even though I find Dolora Zajick’s performances electrifying.
If you want to hear a the trills done correctly then Bergonzi is the choice.