PART ONE. - The Duel.
It is near midnight in the Aliaferia Palace, in Aragon, and various retainers and soldiers of the Count di Luna are trying to stay awake. Ferrando, the Captain of the Guard, urges them to be alert and ready for the Count's return. He is in love, but very jealous of an unknown Troubadour who often shows up at night to serenade his lady. The men are not particularly interested in the Count's love-life: "Tell us about Garcia, his younger brother." Ferrando tells us his version of events that happened fifteen years previously. Click here for a clip of the music.
The old Count had two sons: Garcia, the younger, was just an infant. One morning Garcia's nurse awoke to see a gypsy hovering over the cradle. Her screams for help brought servants who drove the hag away. Soon the child sickened; the Count believed his son had been cursed. The woman was hunted down, captured and burned at the stake as a witch. She had a daughter who, after her mother's death, kidnapped Garcia and, at the very place where her mother had died, set a fire and threw the baby into it. Of course the men are horrified! The old Count died of grief not long after, but he was convinced that Garcia was not dead and swore his surviving son to find him. Neither son nor daughter were ever found; Ferrando is sure he would recognize her despite the intervening years. Properly scared by this horrific story, the soldiers scare themselves even more by reminding each other that the ghost of the burned witch haunts the palace in various bird-like forms. Especially at midnight. Which then strikes.
It is dark in the gardens of the Palace. Thick clouds hide the moon. Ines is concerned that Leonora is ignoring the Queen's command to attend her; but Leonora is preoccupied with the fact that "he" , once again, has not returned. To those of you who are operatic virgins I should explain that the sole purpose of the prima donna's "confidante/attendant" is to ask questions that will elicit answers clarifying for us, the audience, the reason for PD's emotional state which will be explained in an aria. Ines is the exemplar. "When did you first see him?" (As if she didn't know!) "There was a jousting tournament. He appeared, dressed all in black. He won. I awarded him the crown of victory. Civil war broke out and I never saw him again. Later..." "What happened?" "Listen." As soon as a prima donna says Ascolta! know that an aria is forthcoming. And what a glorious aria this is! One night she heard a troubadour sing; he mentioned her name, and she knew it was the unknown knight. Ines is frightened by Leonora's passion for this man and urges her to forget him. Impossible! Click here for a clip of the music.
As they leave the Count di Luna enters. The Queen may be asleep in this silent night, but Leonora is awake. He makes for the steps that lead to Leonora's rooms but is stopped by the sound of a harp: the Troubadour! He sings of a despair which can be cured only by possessing his love. Leonora runs down the stairs into the arms of her beloved. Except it isn't: the arms are the Count's who, not surprisingly, is confused by her words, while the Troubadour is enraged by what he considers betrayal. The tables are turned when Leonora realizes her mistake and blames the darkness for her confusion. The Count now becomes enraged and demands to know the name of his rival. "Manrico!" An ally of Urgel, condemned to death, how dare he come to the Palace? Leonora pleads for calm, but the rivals are determined on a duel, and the act ends with an exciting duet-trio: yes, three people are singing, but two of them are singing the same tune (admittedly with different words). Click here for a clip of the music.
PART TWO. - The Gypsy.
In the mountains of Biscay dawn is breaking, and the gypsies are getting ready for work. Azucena sits by a fire. Manrico lies nearby, wrapped in a cloak; his helmet is at his feet and his eyes are fixed on the sword he holds in his hand. Busy music. Noisy too. This is, of course, the famous "Anvil Chorus" where the male gypsies praise the women for contributing to their happiness. Click here for a clip of the music.
In 1853 Verdi was content to have his gypsies hammer away on two anvils; in 1869 Wagner needed 18 of them to illustrate the work of Niebelheim dwarves in Das Rheingold. Azucena, transfixed by the fire, sees only a woman dragged to the pyre while the on-lookers jeer. Flames. Always flames! "Avenge me!" she whispers to Manrico who is confused by these strange words. The gypsies leave for work, singing their tune, without anvils this time. "Talk to me", says Manrico. The musical score is headed Azucena's Narrative, and she tells us her version of the story Ferrando told us in the opening scene. Carrying her infant son, she followed her mother as she was dragged to the stake. "Avenge me!" the mother cried. Afterwards she kidnapped the Count's sickly son, set a fire at the spot where her mother had burned, and threw the child into the flames. She turned away and saw the Count's son at her feet: she had thrown her own son into the flames. Click here for a clip of the music.
Not unreasonably Manrico wonders whose son he really is. Azucena assures him she is his mother. Who else would have come to bury him after the battle of Pelilla, and, finding him barely alive, would have nursed him back to health? Mention of the battle reminds Manrico of the time he could have killed the Count di Luna, but something held him back. Azucena wryly comments that the Count would not have been so merciful, and advises her son not to be so scrupulous in the future. A horn-call is heard - it is Ruiz, Manrico's second-in-command. "Avenge me" , mutters Azucena. A messenger brings a letter: We have taken Castellor; you are ordered to defend it. Tonight Leonora, believing you dead, will enter a convent. Manrico is determined not to lose his beloved, despite his mother's warnings.
The cloister of a convent near Castellor. Again it is night. The Count and his followers enter cautiously. Hopefully he is in time to rescue his beloved, and, with his rival dead, there can be no obstacle to his desire. In an outpouring of glorious melody he tells us of his love for Leonora. Click here for a clip of the music.
The convent bell chimes: the moment of Leonora's conventual vows is at hand. Di Luna's men hide themselves while he exults in his imminent triumph. Nuns are heard welcoming their latest postulant. Leonora, her ever-faithful companion Ines, and the nuns enter. Since the man she loves is dead she will devote her life to penance and prayer so that one day she may join him in Heaven. The Count interrupts and says that her only vow must be to him. Manrico, and his followers, appears. Leonora is stunned. Even more stunning is the arrival of Ruiz with the news that Urgel (the leader of the rebellion) has just won a decisive battle. The nuns retire to their convent, Manrico leaves with Leonora while the Count is prevented by Manrico's soldiers from following them.
PART THREE. - The Gypsy's Son.
Count di Luna's camp near the rebel stronghold of Castellor. Ferrando assures the soldiers that the attack will take place at dawn. This leads to another of those Verdian unison choruses that sing of the call to fight and the resulting victory. The Count emerges from his tent, very bitter that Leonora and Manrico are together; but that spurs his desire to defeat the rebels and reclaim his love. A commotion interrupts his soliloquy. A gypsy has been arrested on suspicion of being a spy. Azucena, hands tied, is led in. Initially she truthfully answers the questions. Gypsies wander where they please without any kind of plan. She lived in Biscay with a son who left her; since then she has been searching for him. Ferrando becomes suspicious, and so does the Count. "Do you remember the kidnapping of a Count's son?" "Let me find my son." But Ferrando recognizes the daughter of the witch. She calls on her son Manrico to save her, but that name only incites the Count to rejoice in the vengeance he will achieve by executing the mother of his rival.
In the fortress of Castellor, we are in a room adjacent to a chapel. The noise of military preparations upsets Leonora. Manrico admits the attack is imminent, but that they will win the battle. He entrusts the defense of Castellor to Ruiz. Leonora laments the ill omens that cloud their wedding day, but Manrico assures her that her love can only make him braver, and that if he dies her name will be on his lips, which must be small consolation to her. Now follows the shortest love-duet in any opera - a mere twenty-two measures! Click here for a clip of the music.
Ruiz rushes in with the news that a gypsy woman has been captured and is about to be burned at the stake. Manrico admits to his bride that the woman is his mother. "Ah" doesn't quite encompass Leonora's reaction! But it does incite Manrico to sing a thrilling aria in which he pledges, together with his followers, to save his mother. Click here for a clip of the music.
PART FOUR - The Execution.
Night again. The Aliaferia Palace houses state prisoners, and Ruiz points out to Leonora the tower where Manrico is held. She sends him away. The ring on her right hand, filled with poison, will protect her. She prays that her lover will hear her voice and be consoled by it. Off-stage voices pray for the salvation of the soul of the condemned man. Manrico is heard, harping away, bidding farewell to Leonora. Click here for a clip of the music.
The Count enters ordering that mother and son are to die at dawn. He might be overstepping his orders, but it is because of his love for Leonora. His men captured Castellor, but she was nowhere to be found. She's here - at his feet! Pleading for mercy for the man she loves. She will give herself to di Luna if he will spare Manrico's life. Once that order has been given, Leonora swallows the poison in her ring. While she is ecstatic that her lover will live, the Count is equally ecstatic that Leonora will at last be his.
In a gloomy prison cell Azucena and Manrico wait. The son is concerned that his mother cannot sleep; she wishes only to be released from this suffocating place: death has already set its mark upon her. Again she relives the death of her mother at the stake and imagines that soldiers are on their way to drag her to such a death. Manrico encourages her to try to rest. Only in her native mountains, she sings, will she be at peace. Leonora appears and Manrico cannot believe his eyes. She tells him she has come to save him, that there is not much time, and that he must leave at once. She must stay. The fact that she refuses to explain why she cannot go with him leads him to denounce her for giving herself to the Count. Only as Leonora becomes weaker does it dawn on Manrico what she, in fact, has done. Di Luna enters as she bids farewell to Manrico. When she dies, the Count orders Manrico's death, and he is dragged off. Azucena calls for her son; the Count tells her he is dead. "He was your brother. Finally, mother, you are avenged!" And the curtain falls. Click here for a clip of the music.