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  • Anatomy of a WarhorseIl trovatore from A to Z
  • Herbert Lindenberger (bio)


What is Il trovatore "about"?

  1. a. the standard dramatis personae of Italian Romantic opera—heroic tenor, yearning soprano, unpleasant and unsuccessful baritone, wronged and vengeful mezzo-soprano, loyal bass, plus these people's various attendants.

  2. b. the Romantic Middle Ages.

  3. c. the Middle Ages as romanticized in the later novels of Sir Walter Scott.

  4. d. the Middle Ages as further romanticized by Scott's followers, above all, in the dramas of Victor Hugo and his followers—most notably for Il trovatore, in the play El Trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez.

  5. e. the characteristic structure of arias and duets of its time: recitative leading into the cantabile, then the tempo di mezzo, and, finally, the cabaletta.

  6. f. the dangers posed by gypsies (though gypsies did not yet reside in Aragon at the time the play was set).1

  7. g. the gypsy's revenge—revenge becoming an emotion the audience can identify with since it is mediated by a romantically distant setting and by music that seeks to overwhelm any moral compunctions we may have (see Violence).

  8. h. very little in the present and a lot in the past (see Narrating).

  9. i. two brothers separated in infancy after a gypsy bewitches one of them and, in punishment, is sent to the stake, after which her daughter steals this child and, in revenge for her mother's death, seeks to throw him into a fire but mistakenly tosses her own child in, after which she raises the noble son, who, when grown up, attracts a young woman who also happens to be loved by the other brother, with whom he fights a duel, after which, having spared his rival in this duel, he in turn abducts the woman they both love from the convent she was about to enter and then, just before his impending marriage to her, goes into battle to save his supposed mother, who had been captured by his real brother, who in turn captures and jails the brother who had outwitted him in abducting the mutually beloved and who thinks he has finally [End Page 97] won the latter after she agrees to sleep with him if he releases the man she loves but actually poisons herself before he can enjoy her body, with the result that the brother who holds the power in turn executes his rival but is then informed by the original gypsy's daughter of his kinship to his victim.

  10. j. the characteristic disposition of musical numbers of its time: arias, duets, trios, choruses, and a concertato at the end of a middle act.

  11. k. the war between the Carlists and the Liberals in the Spain of the 1830s, this war being the contemporary subtext of García Gutiérrez's play, although Verdi and his librettist Cammarano would likely have been unaware of this, or, even if so, would scarcely have cared.2

  12. l. whatever a contemporary director chooses to make it about (see X-rated).


What can be more banal than Manrico's eight-note refrain from inside his tower cell during the Miserere? Outside the context of Il trovatore these notes come back to me obsessively at the most inopportune times and without giving me the opportunity to turn them off, as I can a CD player or an iPod. They belong to a musical genre that Oliver Sacks, looking at this phenomenon as a neurologist, has labeled "brainworms."3 Maddening as these notes may be, when I hear them within their appropriate context—interspersed with the male chorus solemnly intoning the Miserere and Leonora frantically assuring her lover that she will never forget him (see Quoting and Thrust)—what can be more sublime?


Any aspiring tenor looking through David Lawton's critical edition of Il trovatore will notice that Manrico is never granted a high c in Verdi's score. Not even a b, though at one point, inconspicuously in the first act trio, he gets a b-flat, with the option of even lowering it to d-flat.4 And in what has become his showpiece, the cabaletta "Di quella pira," the...


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