As I prepared for this week’s selection I was shocked that we hadn’t yet covered Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi. The only trace of the opera I could find on Opera Daily was from a post about Manon Lescaut where we mentioned the aria Di Quella Pira from Il Trovatore (1853). At the time, a subscriber had asked me which aria I thought was the most beautiful. I mentioned that this is highly subjective, but for the most part, that I see beautiful as different from great. I believe Di Quella Pira from Il Trovatore is not beautiful, but it is great. And that beautiful, to me, means melodic, sweet, agreeable. Lyrical. In the post, I mentioned how “In quelle trine morbide,” is an exception because it is beautiful and great. That is an excellent segue into another exception that goes into the category of beautiful and great…
Today we’re listening to…
“D’amor sull'ali rosee” from Act IV of Il Trovatore, (“The Troubadour”) an opera in four acts by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi.
The story of Il Trovatore (eel troh-vah-TOH-ray) can be confusing. It does not consist of a single plot, but instead of three separate, intertwining sub-plots (and some critical parts of the story happen before the curtain goes up). To cut a long story short: a mother’s tragic past—and the curse that follows her—destroys two long-lost brothers who compete for the same woman.
📺 🎧 Watch and listen here (6 minute listen): Leontyne Price singing “D'amor sull'ali rosee” (“On the rosy wings of love”) from a 1963 Metropolitan Opera telecast. Leontyne Price (Leonora, lay-oh-NO-rah), Richard Tucker (Manrico), Robert Merrill (Count Di Luna), Irene Dalis (Azucena). Leontyne Price recorded the role of Leonora three times and some have said she was the greatest Leonora of the 1960s and 70s. This video is a bit blurry, but iconic. Her voice is fresh and full of emotion.
What is the context? Manrico has been captured in an attempt to save his mother from being executed and is now being held in prison by the Count of Luna. Leonora has come to the jail in disguise to see him.
On the rosy wings of love, go, oh mournful sigh;
comfort the flagging spirits of the wretched prisoner.
Like a breath of hope flutter in that room;
waken in him the memories, the dreams, the dreams of love.
But, pray, don’t imprudently tell him the pangs, the pangs that rack my heart!
You may have the universe if I may have Italy. - Giuseppe Verdi
Tenor Enrico Caruso, reportedly said it was easy to mount a production of Il Trovatore — all you needed were the four greatest singers in the world! I think he was right! This music is not easy and this aria is just one example. We will cover more arias and choruses from Il Trovatore in subsequent posts, but for now, here are some other interpretations of “D’amor sull'ali rosee”:
WATCH & LISTEN Leyla Gencer (Leonora), Mario del Monaco (Manrico), Orchestra Sinfonicaa di Milano della RAI, 1957 [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
LISTEN Montserrat Caballé (Leonora), Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona
LISTEN Maria Callas (Leonora), Palacio de Bellas Artes (Opera Nacional), Mexico City, 1950 [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
LISTEN Zinka Milanov (Leonora), RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, 1946
WATCH & LISTEN Sondra Radvanovsky (Leonora), The Metropolitan Opera, 2011
Have questions about this opera or this post? Or another favorite interpretation? Drop your questions in the comments, and we will share more!
Thank you for reading (and listening),
Since Giuseppe Verdi's "Il Trovatore" is unexplored opera terrain for me, after reading your introduction, and listening to various interpretations of "D'amor sull' ali rosee...Miserere...Tu vedrai", I went in search of additional insights on the plot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1aPoXJsYfVk&t=48s; https://www.metopera.org/discover/synopses/il-trovatore/).
Wow! Give me an opera in Spain set against a backdrop of war, religion and class conflict. Add a count, a noble woman, a troubadour, star-crossed lovers, gypsies, a curse, revenge, mistaken identities, and a tragic dénouement and I'm all in. From what I've read, so was the audience when this opera (based on the 1836 play "El trovador" by Antonio García Gutiérrez) premiered in 1853 at Rome's Teatro Apollo. I look forward to experiencing the musical, thematic, and emotional complexity of this masterpiece, as have so many others through the ages (https://www.prestomusic.com/classical/works/59496--verdi-il-trovatore/browse).
So, where do I fall along the fault lines of appreciation for the artists featured in this week's reading? No one can argue with the great Leontyne Price's technical virtuosity, who I enjoyed listening to as a child (https://michiganopera.org/celebration-of-leontyne-prices-94th-birthday/). Nevertheless, Sondra Radvanovsky and Montserrat Caballé won the week for me. I love the agility, lyricism and beauty of their soprano voices. I feel that they connect me to their own emotions as artists, as well as to those suggested by the character portrayed.
Non-singer and non-musician question: I'm curious . . .what direction from the composer (a written or verbal instruction from Verdi?) prompts the singers to trill and/or escalate their voices along a higher and higher scale at certain points in the opera? Is there a term for that, or is this bel canto improvisation that has become a tradition?
P.S. Also, whether by accident or design, and despite its tragic themes, "Il Trovatore" was a fine Mother's Day choice. In this second pandemic year, when so many must approach this day with a sense of grief and loss, I hope all who read this will feel peace🕊, if not joy, this Mother's Day🙏.
Michele, after this first quick reading, I wanted to thank you right away for such an insightful and informative reply. It's one thing to sit in the audience and applaud a finished production. It's an entirely new level of appreciation when you have a sense of how the parts combine to create the whole. It occurred to me that while you've highlighted opera as art/artists weekly, your links to master classes, rehearsals, interviews and the like have subtly schooled us about the craftsmanship involved. Plus, I never tire of anecdotes about Maria Callas, nor of the related artworks you post. You amaze me. Thanks again for your comprehensive answer, and for laying out new paths for exploration.
Happy Mother's Day to you, to your opera-loving Mom, and to your friend and colleague, Heather Johnson!🥂)