By Paul Dorgan
THE BOOK OF IL TROVATORE:
How to turn a play into an opera.
The libretto of Verdi's eighteenth opera is based on a Spanish play, El Trovador, by Antonio García Gutiérrez, who had to sneak out of his army barracks to attend the first performance in Madrid in 1836. The play was a smash hit; unfortunately,none of Gutiérrez’s sixty-ish subsequent plays were as successful. (Footnote: Gutiérrez’s Simón Bocanegra became Verdi's twenty-first opera and received only a lukewarm reception in Venice in 1857; twenty-four years later it was revised for a production at La Scala; the revisor of the text was Arrigo Boito, who went on to provide the composer with his last, and greatest, libretti.) After he left the army, Gutiérrez was appointed to various minor government positions in Cuba, Mexico, and even England. He died, aged 71, in 1884.
The play El Trovador, written under the influence of Victor Hugo (the author of the play on which Verdi's Rigoletto had been based) deals with extremes of emotions which are so powerfully all-consuming that who these people really are, Guttiérrez seems to imply, is of minor interest. Don Nuño, Don Manrique, Doña Leonor and Azucena are, in various combinations, personifications of Love; Hate; Jealousy; Vengeance, rather than real people who experience those emotions.
We don't know how Verdi knew of Gutiérrez's play. There is no known published Italian translation of the play, nor any record of its production in Italy. Obviously the more important journals and newspapers would have included cultural reports from tramontane cities like Paris, Vienna, Madrid, London and Berlin. Perhaps Verdi had read of the play in some such report. Or perhaps one of the Italian singers who regularly sang in Madrid told him about this hugely successful play. And perhaps he asked that singer to find him a copy of the script. And perhaps that singer was Giuseppina Strepponi, then the composer's partner, later his wife. What is certain is that Verdi's suggestion of the play as an opera subject to Cammarano, in December 1850 or January 1851, included a translation in Strepponi's hand-writing. He considered it "full of strong situations." There would be two female roles: "The principal one is the gypsy, an unusual character after whom I will name the opera. Of the other I will make a subsidiary part." Clearly the opera did not end up titled Azucena, but instead was called Il Trovatore, the Italian translation of El Trovador (The Troubadour).
Verdi was always on the look-out for his next subject, and at this point in his career - Rigoletto was in its final trimester before being birthed in Venice in March 1851 - he was not about to be fobbed off with something the contracting theatre's Resident Poet had put in his drawer after its rejection by assorted other composers. Of course Verdi had accepted unquestioningly the three libretti given him by the Impressario at La Scala to fulfill his contract there. But for his next few operas Verdi oscillated between insisting on subjects he wanted (Ernani for Venice) and accepting the RP's pre-written text (Alzira, his first opera for the San Carlo Theatre in Naples). Verdi was tired of the so-called "conventions" of mid-century opera, and, certainly after the triumph of Rigoletto, he reckoned audiences were also. "If in opera...the whole work consisted, let's say, of a single number I should find that all the more dramatically convincing...separate numbers, with changes of scene in between, seem to be written for the concert hall rather than the theatre."
A week before the première of Rigoletto, Verdi suggested to the Impressario at Bologna that he write a new opera for the coming Fall. Neither could agree on contract details, so the project was dropped. Another offer from Naples was refused. Verdi had no immediate deadline, and he thought shopping around for a theatre that had hired singers would be appropriate for this Trovatore. It's pretty obvious that, having transformed Hugo's Triboulet into Rigoletto, he was itching to get his musical hands on El Trovador’s equally vengeful Azucena. But, after three months, he had heard nothing, yea or nay, from Cammarano, the librettist to whom he had proposed the Trovatore project.
In a letter dated March 29, 1851, Verdi wrote to Cesare de Sanctis, a Neapolitan friend, that he was furious with Cammarano's silence: Verdi thought that Cammarano could at least let him know if he liked the play. And he added, "...the more novelty, the freer the forms...the bolder he is the happier I'll be." The dream that Cammarano might provide those qualities finds a contemporary parallel in the dream that Laura and/or Barbara Bush might vote for a Democratic President! When Cammarano finally replied, his letter included a programma. This was a detailed prose synopsis of the libretto-to-be, including sections of text which would be later versified as well as indications of where the various musical numbers might occur. It would be submitted early on to the Local Censor so if He had major objections, they could be dealt with before the text had been written and the music composed. More importantly, though, it gave the composer an overview of how the drama would be presented and how the writer envisioned the musical structure. Most composers would probably have taken no more than a cursory glance at the programma. But Verdi was not "most composers"!
Salvadore Cammarano was no novice when he sent his libretto-ized adaptation of Voltaire's Alzire, ou les Américains to Verdi in May 1844. Alzira was his twenty-sixth libretto (his thirty-fourth if various major revisions demanded by censors, or re-writings for other composers are included). One of his early successes was Lucia di Lammermoor, which was immediately followed by five other texts for Donizetti; nine were divided between Mercadante and Pacini, two of the better B-team composers of the time. And how can an author-brother refuse two requests from a composer-brother? Having read Voltaire's original, Verdi must have recognized that Cammarano's libretto for Alzire was so watered-down that little of the original alcohol remained. Their next collaboration, La battaglia di Legnano, in 1849, was a calculated call to the Risorgimento atmosphere of the time, so I doubt that Verdi was much concerned with the finer points of characterization, or with trying to change the musical expectations of the audience. Their third collaboration involved Verdi's cancellation, in 1848, of a contract to provide an opera for Naples, and Cammarano found himself threatened with jail. Cammarano wrote to the composer in desperation, especially since one proposed subject had been censorially rejected. Schiller's play Kabale und Liebe ("Intrigue and Love") had been a previous Verdi suggestion; now the subject was revived, and Cammarano provided a libretto shorn of the German's condemnation of a society in which Innocence is destroyed by Corruption. The composer had some objections to the adaptation, but these were resolved, and Luisa Miller was considered a success when it was first performed in Naples in December 1849.
After these three collaborations Verdi should have - must have? - come to realize three essential characteristics of Cammarano. First: he was an authorial Aesopian tortoise. Every composer with whom he worked complained about the delays they experienced in receiving his texts. Remember: at that time composers thought nothing of producing a couple of operas each year; their livelihood depended on such speed. If a librettist were tardy with the text so that the score were not delivered by the contracted date, not only could the composer be fined, but there could also well be a domino effect on his next few contracts. Still, Cammarano was not to be rushed. Second: working in what was probably the most severely censored state in the Italian peninsula, he was a master at providing censor-friendly texts. They were the epitomes of sanitized convention. Each source, whether Voltaire, Sir Walter Scott, Schiller or Gutiérrez, was put into his Libretto Processor; the "Adapt" button was activated; and out they all came, divided into the regulation arias, recitatives, choruses and ensembles. But this only enhanced his third characteristic: the libretti were wonderfully composer-friendly and theatrically effective.
As proof, let's take a look at a few of Gutiérrez's scenes and compare them with Cammarano's programma. The Spanish play begins in "a small sitting room" in the Aliaferia Palace. Three henchmen of Don Nuño de Artal, Count of Luna, (Guzmán, Jimeno and Ferrando) are shooting the breeze. Jimeno tells the story of the old Count's elder son, Don Juan, aged about two years old. One morning an old gypsy woman was discovered by his bed. She was thrown out of the Palace, but the child began to weaken. His nurse admitted to hearing odd things. Eventually the gypsy was captured and burnt at the stake as a witch. Then the gypsy’s daughter kidnapped Juan, and soon the charred skeleton of a child was found in the exact same spot where the mother had died. The men talk about the witch's haunting of the Palace. Guzmán reminds them that the Count is madly in love with Doña Leonor de Sese, a Lady-in-Waiting of the Queen; she is equally madly in love with a troubadour who, they somehow know, is an ally of the rebelling Count of Urgel. Apparently, one very dark night, a while past, the Count was on his way to Leonor’s rooms when the troubadour's voice was heard; Leonor appeared, mistook the Count for the troubadour, and a duel ensued. The scene ends when they hear the Count stirring in the next room.
Cammarano moves the action for the opera version to a "Hall in the Aliaferia Palace," where various soldiers and attendants of the Count are gathered (There must be an Opening Chorus!). Ferrando, "the oldest of the Count's retainers,” tells the men to be very vigilant because who knows when the Count will return. He is madly in love and spends most nights beneath the balcony of his beloved in case the Troubadour should return. Thus a large chunk of dialog is reduced to a couple of lines. Then the men ask him to tell them the story of Garcia, the Count's son. Ferrando obliges them; Garcia becomes, more logically, the younger son. Cammarano's left-hand margin notes "Chorus and Ferrando's Story."
The scene changes to the Palace gardens; it is night and clouds hide the moon. Cammarano shows us what Guttiérrez's characters talk about: the Spanish past tense becomes the Italian present. And so we meet, in one fell vocal swoop, three of the principal characters, and are presented with the love-triangle that will dominate the opera. Cammarano's left margin suggests a Cavatina (the technical term for a singer's first aria) for Leonora, followed by a trio between Leonora, Count di Luna and the troubadour (at this point named Alfonso in the opera draft). What a musical opportunity this trio is for Verdi! And does he ever seize it!!
Part Two (Cammarano seems to have preferred "Part" to "Act") introduces us to the fourth major character, Azucena, sitting near a large fire, with gypsies lounging around, drinking. One of them tells her that her son is recovering from a wound he received, but she doesn't hear him: she sings a mournful song. This leads into her telling the chorus the story of her mother's death. Guttiérrez, in contrast, keeps the audience waiting for Azucena until the play’s Act 3, perhaps a little long to wait for the appearance of one of the main characters. With no gypsy chorus alcoholically loitering in the vicinity, she tells Manrique the story that has haunted her life. The Convent Scene (which was to be the source of much stress for composer and librettist) brings down the curtain on Gutiérrez's Act 2 is laughable.
Cammarano manipulated the original Spanish play to provide the composer with all the necessary "conventions". An Impressario engaged singers who would, for the most part, be there for the entire season: a Principal soprano, tenor, baritone, bass; a Secondary soprano, mezzo, tenor, bass; plus a chorus and an orchestra. The librettist had to tailor the play/novel to the available singers, which necessitated the elimination of any character who could not make a vocal contribution. Cammarano reduces Guttiérrez's cast to five Principals and four (very) Secondaries. A "Principal" demanded certain vocal perks, so the librettist had to figure out a way to provide each with an elaborate aria. About half-way through - usually at the end of the second act - a scene had to be contrived which would bring all the singers (soloists and chorus) on stage: a frozen moment where everyone expresses their individual reaction to the "Aha!" moment.
Verdi replied to Cammanano's initial response on April 4, 1851, answering the librettist’s questions, objecting to parts of the programma, but never once telling him that his basic outline was good, which it is! Verdi wrote, in essence, ‘Do you like the play or not? I suggested it because it seemed to have effective moments and was original; if you didn't like it, why didn't you suggest an alternative?’ No surprise that Cammarano would be squeamish about the Convent Scene, but Verdi insisted it stay: "it's far too original...we must make as much of it as possible, and get all the effect we can."
A week later another letter to Cammarano from Verdi. The troubadour, still named Alfonso, should not be wounded in the duel that ends Part One: "if we take away his prowess, what does he have left?" Instead Verdi wanted him wounded in battle, as in Guettiérrez. (This means there is about a year's gap between Parts One and Two, which may have been why Cammarano had the Troubadour wounded in the duel. The score says nothing about so much time elapsing. The attentive opera audient might well wonder what tenor Manrico is going on about when he sings of the moment when he is about to kill his rival, but hears a voice telling him to spare the Count. That happened in the duel that followed the end of Part One.)
In the same letter, Verdi takes up a scene toward the end of the piece. He told Cammarano that Leonora should have an aria at the start of what we now know as the "Miserere" scene in Part Four; if necessary, Verdi said, Cammarano could cut her aria in Part One. Verdi's own programma, which he enclosed with this letter, has Alfonso, in Act Three, tell Leonora of a nightmare he had in which a ghost appeared to him "and extending its arms toward me said, Avenge me!" which is based on Gutiérrez's Act Four, Scene 6; the aria, Verdi wrote, would be followed by a full-scale duet for soprano and tenor. Since the libretto already contained two "Narration" arias, Cammarano rightly ignored the composer, and has Alfonso sing instead of the power and depth of his love for Leonora.
Then Verdi gets to the heart of his concerns. "It seems that some of the scenes don't have the power and originality they did have" (In the play, we must suppose). "Above all Azucena has lost the novelty and strangeness of her character; her two great passions, love for her son and for her mother, have been weakened." I would suggest that what Verdi calls Azucena's love for her mother is not love as we understand it. Instead, it's an obsessive compulsion to wreak vengeance on those responsible (including the descendants) for her trauma in witnessing her mother's horrific death, combined with the jeering and taunting of the soldiers leading her to execution and the partying of the populace enjoying the spectacle. And, at the end of the opera, avenging her mother trumps saving her son. Five times in the opera Azucena intones the words of her dying mother: Avenge me! If Verdi's nightmare aria had been adopted, the revenge theme would only have been reinforced. Azucena's final words are You are avenged, Mother! Remember that in his initial proposal to Cammarano, Verdi noted that the play is "very beautiful, imaginative, and full of strong situations...[with] two female roles: the principal one is the gypsy, an unusual character..." How to portray that gypsy and her "two great passions" was the source of much friction between composer and librettist: Cammarano was set in his traditional, "convention"-bound ways, with three-quarters of his eyes and ears trained on the Censor; and Verdi, the revolutionary fire-brand, was determined to inject life and energy into a form that was, as he saw it, becoming ossified by its own popularity; and equally determined to stretch the confining rubber bands of the various regional Censors until they snapped.
Verdi suggested for Act 2 – still in the same letter to his librettist – that Azucena would not tell the story of her mother's execution to the band of gypsies who, per Cammarano, are sitting around, drinking. She would tell it only to her son Alfonso; so a way had to be found to have him on-stage when the curtain rises. It didn't seem to bother Verdi that, with Alfonso on stage, there was now no dramatic reason for the gypsies to be there, but that since they are there, they'd have to sing, seemingly contradicting his earlier desire to be rid of an Opening Chorus. Dramatically the number is superfluous, but what director/conductor today would do away with the "Anvil Chorus"?
Nor would Azucena, when captured by the Count's soldiers in Act 3 – Verdi insists - admit who she is and confess that the Count's brother is alive. Far more dramatic, Verdi rightly thought, to have Ferrando recognize her, which, in the opening scene, he claimed he would. More dramatic still, the composer added, is to keep Alfonso's real identity hidden until the final moments of the opera. In that final scene Azucena should not be mad. Certainly she is exhausted; certainly she is terrified of suffering her mother's fate; certainly her mind wavers between the agony of being burned alive and the peace of her native mountains. But madness would drain the power from her final words.
Cammarano replied on April 24. He deals with some of Verdi's objections/suggestions. Then: "Azucena. Here is where we differ, but perhaps more in appearance than substance...The less Azucena reasons clearly, the more the drama seems rational. I don't intend...that Azucena be insane at all times; her mind wanders when she recalls the horrendous catastrophe of her mother's death..." It was all very well for Verdi to insist on realism in the plot and the characters, but how explain realistically, Cammarano wondered, the end of Azucena's story in Act 2, where she tells Alfonso that, by mistake, she threw her own son into the flames? Any self-respecting son could be excused for wondering who his real parents are. Verdi excuses the moment by saying "the words escape her...and she withdraws them so quickly that the Troubadour...cannot believe they are true." Guttiérrez – in the original play - is more psychologically interesting: when his Manrique, hearing that Azucena killed her own son, asks "Then who am I?” she replies that by suggesting he is a son of the Count she was really mocking his ambition (a nobleman had more or less adopted the boy); Manrique admits that he often wished he could have belonged to a different, a more noble, family - not that he loves her the less because she belongs to a low social class. But the “whose-son-am-I?” problem remains, and contributes to the well-entrenched idea that the plot of Il Trovatore is ridiculous and dramatically implausible. This is discriminatory, because I could name a dozen equally ridiculous/dramatically implausible libretti that became very successful operas, and not just Italian ones - The Flying Dutchman, anyone? Or Götterdämmerung, where Siegfried is "married" to Aunty Brünnhilde? (Footnote: If Azucena hadn't mixed up the babies we'd most likely have no HMS Pinafore or The Gondoliers!)
In June Verdi received the text of the opening scene, without the traditional "opening chorus". Cammarano, knowing that the audience needed back-story, ignored the suggestion that the opera begin with the Troubadour singing off-stage, and had Ferrando tell us what happened some fifteen years earlier.Verdi was delighted: "...continue...in the way you have done the Introduction, and I'll be very happy...Keep sending verses." Next month Azucena was still a problem. Perhaps Cammarano's traditionalist conscience required that if Act One did not begin with a chorus, then at least Act Two should. Which would be fine if Azucena were to tell the gypsies the story of her mother's execution. But see two paragraphs above for Verdi's objection to that. Cammarano's dual problem was how to get Alfonso on stage, and the chorus off, so that the duet between mother and son would be dramatically plausible. As they devised it, it isn't.
A more pressing problem was the concertato scene - the opera's second scene of Act Two. Cammerano's programma laid out the scene in a very traditional way: the Count arrives at the Convent to prevent Leonora from becoming a nun. She enters on her way to the chapel, but is stopped by the Count. Suddenly Alfonso appears. Stupefaction abounds, because the Count and Leonora had believed him dead. Frozen moment where everyone expresses their reaction. The arrival of Ruiz (Alfonso's lieutenant) with his men breaks the spell, and, in the subsequent confusion, allows Alfonso to carry off the fainted Leonora. Verdi felt that the whole scene was too long. Cammarano's solution was to cut the Count's solo; the Count's men could hide themselves during the off-stage chorus of nuns; Leonora prays, during which Alfonso and followers enter; the Count emerges to prevent her entry into the Convent, but is stopped by Alfonso; Leonora faints into his arms; he carries her away; the general uproar on-stage is accompanied by the singing of the off-stage nuns.
That solution pleased neither of them: it seemed too abrupt. In November 1851 Cammarano wrote to Verdi that once it had been decided where the opera would be performed he would be able to finalize the details of this scene. Discussions were going on with Naples and with the Apollo Theatre in Rome; the Roman Impressario there had told Cammarano that words like "church", "convent", and "vows" would not be allowed. This was the last letter from Cammarano to Verdi that still survives. He was ill. Various sections were still sent to Verdi, but they were in the hand-writing of one Leone Emanuele Bardare, with Cammarano's signature underneath. Bardare, at thirty-one, had already had one of his libretti set in 1851; he was to write about a dozen more over the next twenty years: they, and their composers, are completely forgotten now.
In February 1852 Cammarano must have written to tell Verdi that he was sick, but apparently not that it was serious, for Verdi, impatient for more text, wrote to his Neapolitan friend de Sanctis wondering if he could persuade Cammarano to get on with it! On July 10 the remaining sections of text were sent to the composer. A week later Cammarano was dead. Verdi read of the death in a theatrical paper and wrote to de Sanctis of his deep grief. As for the opera, the libretto was in all essentials complete, but Verdi knew some changes would be necessary: the problem of the concertato, for instance, had still to be solved, though he added he was considering returning to the first, "long" version. Who was this "Bardare"? De Sanctis assured the composer that Cammarano had had complete confidence in Bardare, who was elated at the thought of working with the great Verdi (LOL: what budding librettist wouldn't be!), and, yes, he was up to the task. Verdi accepted his friend's recommendation, but it is interesting that all requests for changes were made through de Sanctis.
Naples turned down the new opera because Verdi's financial and casting demands were too, well, demanding! In June he offered the score to Rome on three conditions: the Censor was to accept the libretto as written; the other two concerned the casting of Leonora and Azucena. The opera would be produced late 1852 or early 1853.
At the end of September, Verdi specified to Bardare the three major changes he wanted:
First: Azucena's "Fire Song" (if we can call it that!) at the start of Part Two needed a different scansion because the tune was to be a kind of folksy ditty that the audience would recognize whenever the orchestra brought it back. (Remember the Duke's "La donna é mobile" from the last act of Rigoletto? Same idea). Verdi even supplied his own version of how the text might begin.
Second: In the original programma the Count, in the first scene of Part Three, was to sing a cantabile (a slow melody) expressing his love for Leonora, which was interrupted by Ferrando's news about the capture of the gypsy. Cammarano and Verdi had already cut it, sensing that such a "romantic" moment was out of place in a camp where soldiers were preparing for an imminent assault on the enemy. However, the worrisome concertato scene began with some very energetic lines for di Luna. Verdi realized that here was the perfect place for di Luna, as Principal Baritone, to have his two-part aria; the original lines would no longer work in the new context, so Bardare was to come up with something else. He did. “Il balen” is now one of the most famous baritone arias!
Third: Something similar bedevilled the start of Part Four. Cammarano's programma had Leonora enter and immediately hear the off-stage chant and the Troubadour's lyrical farewell. Verdi's response to the synopsis was that Leonora needed a cantabile before the chant started, and if that meant removing her aria at the start of the second scene of Part One, then so be it. What beautiful lines Bardare supplied for Act 4! They inspired a melody of unsurpassing beauty which explores the glory of the soprano voice in a way that Mozart would not have known, and that Strauss could only dream about. Both arias are retained in the final version of the opera.
These changes were all very well, but they didn't solve the concertato problem. Ultimately Verdi did revert to Cammarano's "long" text, despite the fact that he had painted himself, musically, into a corner. The emergence from hiding of the Count ("Horror! Ah!) is trumped by the appearance of the tenor troubadour (still named Alfonso), who was believed by everyone to be dead. Such an event should result in the kind of frozen opera moment when everyone expresses their reaction in a slow musical moment. And that should be broken by the arrival of Ruiz (Alfonso's lieutenant) and his men with a faster tempo. Which should trigger further consternation, and a still faster tempo to bring down the curtain.
But there is no "slow musical moment.” Instead, Leonora's reaction to Alfonso's is one of great joy sung to an excited, breathless melody. Verdi lopped a limb from Cammarano's structure: Ruiz and Co. enter; fighting words are exchanged between the "armies"; Ruiz and Co. surround the Count while Alfonso hustles the un-fainted Leonora off, but not before she has a chance to reprise the soaring final phrase of her "Aria of Excitement!" The result is undoubtedly exciting musically, but it is confusing dramatically: it all happens so quickly that the audience has little idea who these various soldiers are; which is only compounded by the fact that most opera companies can't provide two male choruses!
Verdi felt the end of the opera needed shortening. After the Troubadour is hauled off to his death, Azucena wakes and wonders where her son is. Thirteen lines of dialog between the Count and the gypsy follow (including her delightful aside: "Mother, I cannot bear it...I must reveal the truth to him!"). After she has revealed that the Count has just (stage direction: A sound is heard like that of a falling axe) beheaded his own brother, she cries out: "A late vengeance is yours, mother, but how cruel!" And faints. Verdi axed most of the dialog and changed Azucena's last line to the much more direct "Mother, you are avenged!" Cutting the dialog does mean that the soldiers and the Tenor must make an Olympic-world-record dash to the scaffold. No matter: we’re not aware of the dramatic faux-pas because we are so intent on what’s going on musically.
Somewhere en route to Rome, “Alfonso” reverted to his Spanish name “Manrique,” which was Italianized to Manrico.
It is time now to recall some of Verdi's early thoughts on this libretto. "...two female roles: the principal one is the gypsy...Of the other I will make a subsidiary part." Undoubtedly Azucena etches herself much more deeply in the audience's consciousness than does Leonora. But Verdi came to the conclusion that Leonora could not be a "subsidiary part.” With two major arias she became the musical equal of Azucena. Why did Verdi change his mind?
"If there were no arias, duets, trios, choruses, finales...and if the whole opera...were a single piece, I would find it more dramatically plausible." It took Verdi a long time to get to the "single piece" he wanted, and even then (in Otello and Falstaff) he and his librettist Boito agonized over the placing of the oh-so-traditional concertato. At this point in his career, Verdi seems very conflicted about the various traditions expected by an audience. Rigoletto had succeeded despite his nose-thumbing at many of these "conventions.” But Il Trovatore seems a sort of step backwards into Cammarano's comfort-zone: a sort of operatic "Tea-Party" conservatism! The additions Verdi asked of Bardare returned the libretto to accepted tradition. The two instances where Verdi flouted that tradition (the end of the concertato, and the very end of the opera) resulted in dramatic confusion, though very exciting music diverts the audience's attention. He must have been aware of possible/probable confusion at those places, yet, without consulting Bardare, he cut clarifying text. Why?
Bardare gave Verdi everything he wanted, and without Cammarano's dilatoriness. The lines he supplied are far more poetic than those of Cammarano. But the San Carlo in Naples seems to have ignored Bardare, and Verdi never collaborated with him again. Why?
Verdi suggested Il Trovador because it was full of "strong incidents" to Cammarano, a librettist employed by an opera house in one of the more fiercely conservative states, and he asked that librettist to defy as many operatic traditions as possible, and to defy as much as possible the Censorship. Why?
We'll never know the answers. What right have mere mortals to question a masterpiece? For that it supremely is. Julian Budden, in the second volume of his masterly three-volume examination of The Operas of Giuseppe Verdi, sums up the achievement of Il Trovatore: "Take a composer at the height of his melodic vitality; fire his imagination through an extravagant and bizarre plot; then channel it through the most conventional of libretto structures - such is the recipe for one of the strangest and most powerful phenomena in the world of Italian opera."