2002: Le Trouvère
Program notes by George W. Martin
Why – the question looms – when Il Trovatore, as Verdi wrote it, in Italian, was so instantly popular, did he bother to revise it three years later, making small changes, adding a ballet, and re-presenting the opera in French as Le Trouvère?
The triumph of Il trovatore, starting at its premiere in Rome on 19 January 1853, was extraordinary, approached only by Verdi’s earlier opera, Ernani (1843). Scholars tell us that Il trovatore, in its first three years, had at least 229 productions worldwide, most with many performances. In Naples, for example, where the opera in its first three years had eleven stagings, performances totaled 190. So many that a Neapolitan, Pasquale Altavilla, composed a farce with music, Una famiglia entusiasmata per la bella musica del “Trovatore” (A family enraptured by the beautiful music of Il trovatore). And this, too, was highly popular and frequently revived.
So, why bother with a French version of the opera? For reason legal, financial, and artistic.
Verdi’s legal reasons are a thicket of claim and counter-claim over French copyright to his operas. In the French courts he sometimes won, sometimes lost, but with Il trovatore he saw a chance to strengthen his position if he produced his own, French version of the opera.
His financial reasons are allied to the suits. In the opera’s first three years, Il trovatore had few performances in French-speaking countries, chiefly two productions in Italian in Paris, both overseen by Verdi. A large market awaited the opera – if sung in French. That was French custom.
His artistic reason was to insure good productions for the opera. He recently had suffered defeats with bad French stagings of Luisa Miller, and with productions of Rigoletto and La traviata based on pirated scores. If he himself commissioned the French translation and made the necessary revisions, he could better protect the work. For all these reasons, Le Trouvère.
It had its premiere at the Thèâtre Impèrial de L’Opèra in Paris on 12 January 1857. Apparently, it played next in Lyons, and then in New Orleans, where it had its United States premiere at the Thèâtre Orlèans on 13 April, the Monday after Easter. As usual, the opera house had closed for Holy Week, but according to Le Courrier, “the artists will not make a retreat, however great their desire to do so, but instead are in continual rehearsals of Verdi’s Le Trouvère.”
As Jack Belsom, former archivist for the New Orleans Opera Association, has shown, the fortnight of the Le Trouvère premiere was further notable for the premieres of two or more Verdi operas. Besides its French company at the Orlèans, the city then had at the Gaiety Theatre an Italian troupe, which staged city premiers of La traviata and Il trovatore. In a period of eight days the city had six performances of Il trovatore, three each in French and Italian.
The French community in New Orleans took pride in hearing French operas promptly after premieres in Paris, and the Thèâtre Orlèans mounted a splendid Le Trouvère, with eight newly painted “tableaux” for scenery and costumes imported from Paris. And the public was pleased, though the Courrier lamented that Verdi in his melodies “chose the banal over the profound.” The Picayune, however, was full of praise, citing the “Miserere” as the opera’s best scene.
Except for the ballet and the addition to the orchestra of cornets, most of Verdi’s changes are easy to miss. Most obviously, he cut the soprano’s cabaletta “Tu vedrai” (which closes the “Miserere” scene), lengthened the opera’s ending slightly (bringing back the monks’ chorus in the background), and, shortly after the ballet, lengthened a cantabile for Azucena as she is questioned by de Luna and Fernand. Most critics deplore the last because it slows the drama’s acceleration. The ballet, however, usually is admired, and Verdi took an interest in its staging and choreography by Lucien Petipa. Of its nineteen rehearsals before the premiere, Verdi attended the last eight.
Sarasota’s production of Le Trouvère is the seventeenth in the company’s cycle of 33 Verdi operas (including all the important revisions). The cycle, beginning in 1989 with Rigolettoand now in its fourteenth year, will conclude in 2013, the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth, with productions of Aida and Jérusalem.
George W. Martin has written several books on Verdi, including his often reissued biography, Verdi, His Music, Life and Times.