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Il Trovatore (The Troubadour) was based on the play El Trovador (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. The libretto was by Salvadore Cammarano, who died in mid-1852 before completing the libretto. Only two acts were fully complete, and most of the fourth act was missing. Leone Emanuele Bardare, a friend and collaborator of Cammarano, was charged with completing it. Verdi took this opportunity to propose significant revisions (largely in the expansion of the role of Leonora), which were implemented by the young librettist.
Il Trovatore was first performed in Rome, in 1853.
Within the first three years following its triumphant premiere at the Teatro Apollo in Rome on Jan. 19, 1853, 229 productions of Il Trovatore were given worldwide. In Naples, for example, the opera had 11 stagings in six theatres with a total of 190 performances. It is number 23 on the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide. With its story of kidnapping, beheading, burning babies and bloody revenge, Il Trovatore was an even bigger hit than Rigoletto.
Beginning in about 1850, Verdi wrote three consecutive operas, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, and La Traviata (“trilogia popolare” or "popular trilogy"), that have been mainstays of the operatic repertoire ever since. Initially, Verdi wanted to call the opera La Zingara (The Gypsy) in honor of the character Azucena. She's such a powerful and compelling character that it's understandable why Verdi thought of her as the main character of the drama.
Enrico Caruso once said that all one needs for a successful performance of Il Trovatore are the four greatest singers in the world.
The opera and its music were featured in the Marx Brothers’ film, A Night at the Opera and director Luchino Visconti used a performance of Il Trovatore at La Fenice opera house for the opening sequence of his 1954 film Senso. As Manrico sings his battle cry in “Di quella pira,” the performance is interrupted by the answering cries of Italian nationalists in the audience.
Ramón Vargas as Manrico and Elza van den Heever as Leonora in in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Il Trovatore, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2012