Revenge! Mistaken identities! Poison! Musical anvils!

Opera 101

Il Trovatore, by Giuseppe Verdi, premiered in Italy in 1853 and in the United States in 1855 at the Academy of Music in New York. Comprising four acts with two scenes each, it’s among the top 20 most-performed operas in North America. Il Trovatore (The Troubador) is considered part of a Verdi trilogy along with Rigoletto and La Traviata. Leading roles are for tenor, soprano and baritone.

Recognize that tune?

The fast, furious orchestral passages that introduce a famous song in this opera give way to a chorus so contagious you might hear people in the audience humming along. Quietly, we hope. This is the rousing Anvil Chorus: Vedi! le fosche notturne spoglie. It is set at the gypsy camp in the first scene of Act II.

The story

Convoluted, sometimes confusing, fraught with tumultuous emotion, Il Trovatore is the Jerry Springer Show of opera. Author Antonio Garcia Gutierrez wrote the original drama upon which the opera is based, El Trobador. The lead roles demand much of the singers, while the twisting plot demands much from the audience. Here’s a synopsis:

Act 1 (The Duel): Soldiers at Count Di Luna’s palace lie in wait for Manrico, the troubadour who is the Count’s rival for the lovely Lady Leonora. One of the soldiers entertains the others by telling them a story about gypsies killing the Count’s brother years ago. Leonora, meanwhile, confides to a friend that she is in love not with the Count, but with Manrico. The two men depart to duel.

Act II (The Gypsy): We are now at a gypsy camp where men pound iron with hammers on their anvils at daybreak. Azucena is a gypsy whose mother was burned at the stake many years ago. She reveals to Manrico that to avenge her mother’s death, she hurled the Count’s infant brother into the flames. But, in her confusion, she accidentally tossed in her own son. Then she raised Manrico, whom she kidnapped, as her own. The pair suddenly receive the news that Leonora, thinking Manrico has perished, is going to enter a convent. Manrico rushes to be with her, they run into the Count, there is a fight, and Manrico and Leonora make a getaway.

Act III (The Gypsy’s Son): The Count is camped out near where the lovers are hiding when Azucena is found nearby The Count’s soldier recognizes her as the gypsy who cast the Count’s brother into the flames. Now she is to be burned at the stake. When Manrico hears the news, he runs to aid the woman who raised him as her son.

Act IV (The Torture): Manrico has been captured and imprisoned along with Azucena in a tower. Leonora resolves to save him, agreeing to go with Di Luna even as she covertly swallows poison. As she dies, Di Luna puts Manrico on the executioner’s block. As he is killed, the grief-stricken Azucena reveals to the Count that her mother is now avenged — Manrico was the Count’s own brother.

(Sources: Wikipedia,,

Il Trovatore Jun 12-14
Lila Cockrell Theatre


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