Hello Everyone,


I’ve decided to go with a more positive subject line since nobody knows when we’ll all feel like in-person lessons again.  Eventually, I’m sure.  In the meantime, let’s consider Il Trovatore, or The Troubador, a Verdi opera that I will nearly always watch whenever there’s a chance – like this past Thursday when the Met streamed it.  Many people love to point out it’s flaws, particularly that the libretto is so twisty and needlessly complex that hardly anyone actually knows what’s going on.  Of course, the music is Verdi at his best, which is very, very good.  Verdi asked his librettists to set up high emotion situations that would allow him to write high emotion music.  He’d tell them, “Give me blood!”  Really!  It’s in a letter.


A lot of times, people don’t get why these people are screaming at each other over the full orchestra, and that is quite understandable.  In this day and age, visual is where the attention is.  Verdi was born in 1810, which puts him mid-stream in the Romantic Era when emo was in.  His music is about the inner lives of his characters.  The plot is only a necessary skeleton on which to hang these incredible pieces.  So what’s the deal with Trovatore?  Let me explain.


Pavarotti once said that all you need for Trovatore is the four best singers in the world.  That’s pretty much the case.  Soprano, alto, tenor, bass, all four have to be singers of the very first quality.  Here are the characters that they play.


Leonora is the soprano.  She is good, and she is in love with the tenor.  The baritone wants her and tries to force her to marry him.  We assume he means marriage, but possibly not).  Leonora, like other heroines of her name, is willing to put herself in danger to save her beloved.  My all-time favorite Leonora was Leontyne Price, and here she is singing my all time favorite Verdi aria Tacea la notte placida. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqnwwGyGppI  No video here, so listen while you read the rest of this stuff.


Manrico is the tenor.  He is in love with Leonora, but since she’s a high-born Spanish lady and he’s a lowly gypsy (or so he thinks!), he courts her from afar by singing.  Remember that in the knightly times, a knight could also be a troubadour, like Richard the Lion-Heart of England.  The setting is in knightly times, I’m not sure exactly when, but somehow Manrico the gypsy has become the leader of the rebels against Count di Luna and whoever he works for.  Manrico is actually the younger brother of Count de Luna, the villainous baritone, but neither of them knows it.  They both think they are rivals for Leonora’s affections.  Here’s Manrico’s big aria with my favorite Manrico, Franco Corelli.  This is from a full opera recording, and there’s a bit of conversation beforehand, then he sings Ah si, ben mio, the cavatina of the aria (all abut how he loves Leonora) followed by folks coming in to tell him some news, which leads him to sing Di quella pira, the reason why most tenors can’t handle Manrico.  Those are high C’s, y’all.  Yeah, it’s a big cabaletta.  More about the terminology below.  In it’s time, it was fairly radical to separate the cavatina and the caballetta, but go Verdi!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9sROVwk3LI  Why the organ?  Well, they were trying to get married.


Azulcena says she’s Manrico’s mother and has raised him among her gypsy people, but ‘tain’t so.  Count di Luna (the father of the present Count) had burned her mother at the stake for witchcraft.  While the execution was going on, Azulcena kidnapped the Count’s baby (that’s Manrico -- keep up now) meaning to throw him into the fire that was burning up her mother.  Alas, in her high emotional state, she got confused and tossed her own baby into the fire.  She escaped with baby Manrico and raised him, but she was haunted by that scene, and she tells about it in her aria, Stride la vampa.  This role was Marian Anderson’s Met debut, but since they didn’t ask her until 1955 when she was 58, none of her recordings are what they ought to be.  So here’s Anita Rachvelishvili In the Met’s current production, in a performance from the 2017-18 season.  She’s good, too, but I think that Ekaterina Semenchuk is more dramatic even though the chorus ladies are wearing their gypsy heels and everyone is sitting around on the floor in a 1966 Met staging, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24HdVdYjg84.  Nowadays it’s just the sopranos who roll around on the floor; the chorus is up and doing.


Count di Luna is the baritone, and he’s just bad.  I guess that’s why he doesn’t have a super aria.  This is Manrico’s older brother, who has succeeded their father to be the present day Count.  He spends most of the opera singing trios (I think there are four) mostly with Leonora and Manrico.  Talk about powerhouse music!  I liked the late Dimitri Horoskovsky in the current Met production.  He doesn’t have any Trovatore up on You Tube, alas.  He’s the guy that was back singing after surgery for, I think, a brain tumor.  Still good looking, too.


Okay, now you have the program so you can tell who the players are.  The first half of Act 1 is where a lot of this stuff gets explained.  In scene 2, Manrico is expected to meet Leonora in the moonlight.  Naturally the bad baritone shows up and there’s a trio and a sword fight.  Act 2 is in the gypsy camp where those musical gypsies are banging out the Anvil Chorus. Azulcena relives the worse experience in her life, and then somebody shows up to tell Manrico that Leonora is entering a convent because she thinks he was killed.  He takes his troops (?) and goes to the convent to let her know that he’s okay.  Guess who else shows up to kidnap Leonora from the convent and force her to. . ., well, whatever.  Another trio.


Act 3, Manrico and Leonora escaped and have taken refuge in a castle, planning to get married.  Naturally the Count has brought his army to besiege the castle and in the meantime has captured Azulcena.  When he hears that, Manrico sings the famous Di quella pira (that was the cabaletta) and dashes off to rescue his mom. The Count’s army beats Manrico’s and now the Count has both Manrico and Azulcena imprisoned in the tower. 


Act 4:  Now comes Leonora’s other stellar aria Tacea la note placida and then the grand scena Miserere with Leonora outside, the tenor in the tower, and a chorus of monks.  Leonora has come to try to ransom him by promising to marry the Count.  So the Count shows up and agrees with her plan.  Honestly, how does she think that will work?  No, she plans to take poison so that the tenor escapes, and she will not have to yield to the baritone.  Another trio and Azulcena wakes up.  I forgot to tell you that she and Manrico sang a duet and then she had a nap.  So anyway, Leonora dies, the angry Count has Manrico executed, and Azulcena tell him that he’s killed his own brother.  Curtain.  Yeah, it ought to be in Marvel Comics. 


So yes, cavatina/cabaletta was a famous form.  The entire opera Lucia di Lammermoor, from the overture through the sextet and on to the end, is in that form, and it was the main Italian aria form in the 19th century.  Musicology moment:  structurally it developed from the baroque da capo aria (ABA in form) by starting with the beautiful slow part and ending with the exciting fast part, sort of B-A if you’re thinking of the older form.  Tacea la notte placida Is a cavatina/cabeletta form aria.


Okay, so enough with the music history.  I love Trovatore because the music is incredible.  Also, it’s short!  Generally finishes in two and a half hours – like a big Marvel movie.

Best wishes,