Libretto by Salvadore Cammarano and Leone Emanuele Bardare, based on the play El Trovador by Antonio García Gutiérrez
World premiere: Rome, Teatro Apollo, January 19, 1853
Part 1: The Duel
Spain is torn apart by Civil War. The commander of the Royalist Aragon troops, Count di Luna, is obsessed with Leonora, a young noblewoman in the queen’s service, who does not return his love. Outside the royal residence his soldiers keep watch at night. An unknown troubadour has been heard serenading Leonora and the jealous count is determined to capture and punish him. To keep his troops awake, the captain, Ferrando, recounts the terrible story of a gypsy woman who was burned at the stake years ago for bewitching the count’s infant brother (“Abbietta zingara”). The gypsy’s daughter then took revenge by kidnapping the boy and—so the story goes—throwing him into the flames where her mother had died. The charred skeleton of a baby was discovered there and di Luna’s father died of grief soon after. No trace was ever found of the daughter, but di Luna, always hoping that the remains might not have been his brother’s, has sworn to find her.
In the palace gardens Leonora confesses to her companion Inez that she is in love with a mysterious man she met before the outbreak of war. It is he who now returns as the troubadour to serenade her each night (“Tacea la notte placida”). After they have gone indoors, Count di Luna appears in the garden, driven nearly insane with desire for Leonora. As he approaches her door, the troubadour’s song is heard in the darkness. Leonora rushes out to greet him but is seized instead by di Luna. The troubadour appears and reveals his true identity; he is Manrico, leader of the partisan rebel forces. Furious, the count challenges him to fight to the death.
Part 2: The Gypsy
The duel has been fought, with Manrico overpowering the count. But, strangely, some instinct stopped him from striking the blow that would have killed his rival, and he let the count live. The war has raged on with the Royalist forces victorious in the last battle. Manrico has been badly wounded but his mother, the gypsy Azucena, has dragged him from the battlefield to a camp in the mountains and nursed him back to health.
Azucena is the woman di Luna has been looking for. Her life is scarred by the memory of her mother’s death and the terrible revenge she exacted (“Stride la vampa”). Manrico is determined to hear the whole truth and once the camp has moved on, she begins to tell him a horrific story. She stole the count’s infant son but the child she murdered was in fact her own (“Condotta ell’era in ceppi”). When Manrico demands to know who he truly is, Azucena is evasive; all that matters is the maternal love she has shown him all his life and that he does not fail in his oath to take revenge on the house of di Luna. A messenger arrives with news of Leonora. Believing Manrico has died in battle, and to escape the grasp of di Luna, she is entering a convent. Azucena pleads with Manrico to stay, but he resolves to go to her immediately. Azucena sets off on a journey of her own.
Di Luna plans to storm the walls of the convent with his troops and take Leonora by force (“Il balen del suo sorriso”). As Leonora prepares to take her vows, he tries to seize her, but is prevented by the attack of Manrico and his men. In the ensuing fight and confusion, the lovers escape (Finale: “E deggio e posso crederlo”).
Part 3: The Gypsy’s Son
Di Luna and his army are attacking the fortress where Manrico has taken refuge with Leonora. Ferrando drags in Azucena, who has been captured wandering near the camp. When she hears di Luna’s name, Azucena’s reactions arouse suspicion and Ferrando recognizes her as the murderer of the count’s brother. Azucena cries out to her son Manrico to rescue her and the count realizes that he has the means to flush his enemy out of the fortress. He orders his men to build a pyre and burn Azucena before the walls.
Inside the castle, Manrico and Leonora are preparing to be married. She is frightened; the battle with di Luna is imminent and Manrico’s forces are outnumbered. He assures her of his love, even in the face of death (“Ah sì, ben mio”). When news of Azucena’s capture reaches him, he summons his men and desperately prepares to attack (“Di quella pira”).
Part 4: The Execution
Manrico’s army has been defeated and he and Azucena are being held captive in di Luna’s castle. Leonora has escaped with Ruiz, Manrico’s lieutenant, and comes to the prison. She knows that he is condemned to death and prays for his salvation (“D’amor sull’ali rosee”). The troubador’s voice is heard from inside the castle. When di Luna appears and orders the execution of both Manrico and Azucena at sunrise, Leonora offers herself to the count in return for her lover’s life, but secretly takes a slow poison to cheat di Luna of his prize.
Inside the prison, Manrico tries to comfort Azucena, who is terrified by visions of the stake and the fire that await her. He lulls her with memories of their former freedom and happiness (Duet: “Ai nostri monti”). Leonora rushes in to tell Manrico that he is saved, urging him to escape. He understands what she has done and furiously denounces her, refusing di Luna’s mercy. But the poison is already taking effect. Leonora dies in his arms. Di Luna enters the cell in time to witness her death. He sends Manrico to his execution. Azucena cries out that her mother is avenged: di Luna has killed his own brother.