The activities in this guide address various aspects of Il Trovatore:
the opera’s narrative structure
the traditional musical forms Verdi uses and develops in the score
the close integration of the music with Cammarano’s libretto
the longstanding popularity of Il Trovatore’s melodies
the opera’s history, reputation, and cultural influence
the production as a unified work of art, involving creative decisions by the artists of the Metropolitan Opera
The guide is intended to cultivate students’ interest in Il Trovatore whether or not they have any prior acquaintance with opera. It includes activities for students with a wide range of musical backgrounds, seeking to encourage them to think about opera—and the performing arts in general—as a medium of entertainment and as creative expression.
A Close Look at Plot and Back Story in Il Trovatore
Verdi’s Il Trovatore has been both acclaimed as one of the most gripping operas in the repertoire and derided as ridiculous. The playwright George Bernard Shaw celebrated its “tragic power, poignant melancholy, impetuous vigor, and…sweet and intense pathos,” yet warned that “if it allowed you to think for a moment, it would crumble into absurdity.” To a great extent, the controversy is rooted in a deceptively simple narrative involving characters blessed—or burdened—with an intricate back story.
This two-part classroom activity takes students on a journey through several key moments in Il Trovatore. In Part I, they will learn the basic structure and characteristics of the double-aria form while collecting evidence about the personalities and backgrounds of three main characters from their arias. Part I ends with a cliffhanger: the second part of Manrico’s aria (the so-called cabaletta) is held back until Part II.
In Part II, students will listen to the second half of Manrico’s aria, together with Azucena’s aria. This will prompt a re-examination of the story by introducing an element of back story which affects characters’ behavior and motivation. Students will:
analyze the core plot of the opera
listen critically to arias sung by each of the four main characters
examine Verdi and Cammarano’s use of the double-aria form to establish and enrich their narrative
formulate their own interpretations of events represented in key solos
assess the effect a back story can have on the trajectory of a foreground plot
create their own “double aria” presentations of elements of back story from familiar, contemporary tales