The Gypsy's Revenge

Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 8 pm
Tuesday, November 25 at 7 pm
Friday, November 28 at 8 pm

Sung in Italian with projected English translations

Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano
Directed by Michael Cavanagh
Conducted by Tyrone Paterson

A tale of tragedy, doomed love, brave men and passionate women, swordfights, and last-minute rescue attempts, Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) is the ultimate romantic opera.

This heart-stopping drama features one of Verdi’s most powerfully passionate and magnificent musical scores.

One hit after another, including the famous Anvil Chorus, fuels this spectacular blood-and-thunder opera.

Brimming over with poetic moments; spooky stories; a medieval world of chivalry, heroics, and violence; and stunning music.

View Full Synopsis »

The Story

Fifteenth-century Spain. Civil war, deep secrets, love, hate, and vengeance. Two brothers — Manrico and Count di Luna — separated at birth (unbeknownst to each other), are in love with the same woman and fight to the death for love and country. Meanwhile, a gypsy (Azucena) avenges her mother’s fiery death and a beautiful aristocrat (Leonora) sacrifices her honour to save the man she loves. When the Count gains the upper hand in the feud by imprisoning Azucena and Manrico, he orders Manrico beheaded, only to learn too late that Manrico is his long-believed-dead brother.

Musical Highlights
  • Verdi's bel canto opera features explosive runs, rapid trills, and vertigo-inducing high notes
  • Manrico's aria "Ah sì, ben mio"
  • Leonora's aria "D'amor sull' ali rosee"
  • "Stride la vampa!" Azucena's impassioned description of her mother's awful fate
  • "Il Balen" the Count's great bass aria
  • "Di quella pira" (From flaming death-pyre), a spirited aria sung by Manrico
  • The chorus and duet "Miserere"

Il Trovatore Photos

Richard Margison (Manrico) and Emilia Boteva (Azucena)

Todd Thomas (Count Di Luna) and

Michelle Caplabo (Leonora)

Kirk Eichelberger (Ferrando) and Todd Thomas (Count Di Luna)

Il Trovatore Trivia

Prepared by Robert Vineberg

How can I briefly describe the story?

A Gypsy woman gets revenge for her mother’s death by tricking the Count into murdering his own brother.

Does the story make sense?

Some would say no: Lang in The Experience of Opera states the “Il Trovatore has a libretto that is almost impossible to accept; it is a concoction in which from first to last the most doubtful expedients are offered in the guise of plot and action.”

Does it matter?

Lang offers a resounding “No”: “... the curtain goes up and a miracle takes place; what seems silly or preposterous when read becomes warm human passion when sung…. The music makes everything believable. More than anyone else, Verdi knew the power of music to covert dismal melodrama into noble human sentiment…”

Where does Il Trovatore fit in Verdi’s works?

Il Trovatore was composed between Rigoletto and La Traviata.

Where was Il Trovatore first performed?

In Rome, at the Theatro Apollo on January, 19, 1853

Was it an immediate hit?

Yes. Its popularity spread like wildfire. By 1855, it had already been produced in London and New York. The opera was an instant success and quickly circulated around the world, reaching nearly 300 different houses in its first three years. It was a veritable cash cow for opera companies, remaining popular with audiences to the end of the century.

Why is Il Trovatore memorable?

It is full of famous music. Some of the memorable tunes are:

  • The fantastic trio in Act I with Manrico, the Count, and Leonora
  • The Anvil Chorus opening Act II
  • Stride la Vampa (The flames are roaring)
  • Soldiers’ Chorus, opening Act III
  • Di quella pira (The horrid flames of that burning pyre…) with a famous high C. The high C was not in the original score but was added by Carlo Baucardé (1825-1883).  Baucardé created the role of Manrico in Rome but only added the high C to Di quella pira in Florence, later in 1853. Caruso popularized the high C in the last century and it has been sung by every other tenor since.

Today Il Trovatore is one of the 20 most performed operas in North America.

Is Il Trovatore a difficult opera to perform?

In the words of Enrico Caruso, "No, all you need is the four best singers in the world."

Il Trovatore requires excellent singers and Manitoba Opera’s production has some of  the best:

Manrico –Count di Luna’s brother and the “good guy” in the story will be sung by Canadian superstar tenor, Richard Margison. He hasn’t sung for MO in over 20 years, and he is only singing in two Canadian cities this year - Winnipeg and Calgary.

Bad guy, Count di Luna and, unknown to him, Manrico’s brother, will be sung by Todd Thomas, a fantastic American baritone. Following his recent triumph in Puccini’s Tosca at the New York City Opera, The New York Times wrote, “It also helped that Scarpia was sung by Todd Thomas in a vocally assured and dramatically charged performance, full of all the smugness and lustful rapacity that the role demands.”  He also received international acclaim for his Count di Luna in Il Trovatore for German audiences.

Leonora, the love interest of both male leads, will be sung by Michele Capalbo, who has performed the role in Madrid, Santiago, and New York. The Boston Herald wrote recently, “The young Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo as Floria Tosca ... demonstrated a dark, richly colored, even voice topped by brilliantly shining high notes ... [and] the famous aria ‘Vissi d'arte’ was exquisitely shaped.”

Azucena, a Gypsy and Manrico’s adoptive mother who wants to get even with Count di Luna because his father killed her mother (but all this happens before the opera begins),  will be sung by Emilia Boteva, a Bulgarian singer, now living in Canada, with a voice like a cannon. We were the second opera company in Canada to hire her and she performed in concert a few years ago. This season she’ll appear in Quebec, Edmonton, Ottawa, La Palmas, and Jerez (Spain).

What was going on in Spain at the time of the opera?

The play, El trovador, by Antonio García Gutiérrez, was first produced in 1836.  It is set within a specific period of Spain's history, although most of the details have been eliminated from the opera. During the years 1410-1413, Aragon was wracked by civil war. Spain had yet to be united by the wedding and ascension of Ferdinand and Isabella, and the various marriages between the smaller kingdoms in what is now Spain could often result in multiple successors, should there be no direct male heir.

This is what happened to Martin I of Aragon. His only surviving male descendant was an illegitimate grandson, who in accordance with the Catholic Church, was barred from succession. Aragon also observed “Salic Law”, an old Frankish custom that forbade the passing of the crown to any males born to female descendants of the king. Nonetheless, Martin I put forth his nephew, Ferdinand of Castile, who was the son of the King of Castile and Pedro IV's daughter Leonor (even though her grandson and Ferdinand's nephew, King Juan of Castile had a better claim). This was much to the ire of Doña Margarita, the ambitious mother of Jaime the Hapless, Count of Urgel, who was certain that after the death of Martin's son in 1409, the crown would go to him. Jaime was the great-grandson of Alfonso IV and the closest eligible male heir. He was also married to his cousin, Martin's sister Isabella.  If you are confused by now, don’t worry!

Although Jaime had the strongest legal claim with regard to heredity, Ferdinand had the most popular support.  He had demonstrated his good sense while holding the regency of Castile for the infant Juan when he easily could have seized the throne for himself. Two noble families were drawn into the dispute, the de Lunas and the Urreas. Antonio de Luna followed Jaime's camp and masterminded the murder of the Archbishop of Zaragoza, who had sided with both the Urreas and Ferdinand (the murder is referred to in Gutiérrez's play but not Verdi’s opera). This particularly barbarous act led to the eventual downfall of Jaime, who was soon caught and sentenced to death but his punishment was then commuted to life in prison. Ironically, Ferdinand I would have short reign, dying of illness in 1414.

So a de Luna did exist, although not as Gutiérrez and Verdi portrayed him. As a result of his treachery, his name became part of that era's regional argot, “To go with de Luna” was equivalent to meeting with death. He is the only one with any real link to the period.  

Azucena is merely an archetype - Gypsies were common all over Spain. The playwright clearly drew from one myth: that Gypsies were associated with witchcraft and believed to both steal children and burn them in bonfires as part of their rituals. By the 15th century, troubadours of the medieval age may have been fading into history, but Manrico survives in the Romantic tradition of Sir Walter Scott as the courageous, yet mysterious black knight who writes both verse and song. Though Manrico's Gypsy upbringing might have excluded him from a tradition generally afforded to the nobility, the mystique of the troubadour makes a wonderful character for an opera.

This history is adapted from Opera America

What was going on in Italy when Verdi was composing Il Trovatore?

Modern Italy is a younger country than Canada. It was only in 1870 with the capture of Rome on September 20, 1870, that the long process of Italian unification known as the Risorgimento, or Resurgence, finally unified the Italian peninsula under Vittorio Emmanuele II, then King of Sardinia.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Verdi’s rising popularity coincided with the Risorgimento. The success of Verdi’s opera Nabucco,in particular, made “Verdi” a household name.  Many Italians heard in Verdi’s music a cry for Italian unification and independence. This was especially so in Milan, where Verdi lived, as it was then under Austrian occupation.  The piece that became the rallying point of the Risorgimento was Va’ Pensiero, the chorus of the Hebrew Slaves longing for their homeland:

Fly, thought, on wings of gold
Go settle upon the slopes and hills
Where the sweet airs of our
Native soil smell soft and mild...

Verdi’s name remained linked to the Risorgimento ideals by becoming a revolutionary acronym that was first painted on the walls of Rome, at the time of “Un ballo in maschera”. This idea would rapidly spread throughout the country, which was living in an extremely repressive political climate. The seemingly innocuous graffiti “Viva Verdi” alluded to an aspiration that was increasingly felt and shared among the population: “Viva V[ittorio] E[manuele] R[e] DI[talia”], or, “Long live Vittorio Emanuele, King of Italy”!

So, Verdi, the consummate artist, was linked inextricably with the political movement that created modern Italy.

What was going on in Manitoba in 1853?

Manitoba did not exist, as such, in 1853. The territory now occupied by Manitoba was part of “Rupert’s Land”, granted to the Hudson Bay Company in its charter from King Charles II in 1670. First Nations people dominated the sparse population of the area. Winnipeg, then known as Fort Garry had a population of under 1000 and served as the western headquarters of the Hudson Bay Company which not only traded for furs but administered all of what is now Western Canada east of the Rockies. Fort Garry definitely did not have an opera company in 1853.

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