Monday, March 10, 2014

The Count, Leonora & the Troubadour -- Oh my!

Long ago and far away - the 1950s in England - I was in grammar school, an all-girls establishment it was. I disliked school intensely, not that I didn't enjoy learning - I did; or found it difficult - I didn't. I disliked what I saw as the regimentation of school. One happy memory of those days I've retained is of our school choir's presentation of Giuseppe Verdi's 1853 opera Il Trovatore. The version performed had to have been a shortened English translation of the original, with basic plot kept intact, making the most of all the best melodic arias - good tunes - Il Trovatore has several of these.

Some of us, hearing choir members rehearsing their parts, immediately fell in love with the music, lurking by music room doors and windows became a regular pastime. When time for dress rehearsals on stage in the main hall arrived, we'd riskily be late for, or sneak out of, lessons to watch and listen from the balcony.

Because our school was all-female, male roles in the opera had to be taken by deepest voices available. This didn't faze us, we'd grown up with Christmas pantomime as part of our experience. Genders in pantomime are mixed or matched randomly. My favourite school prefect, Judy was her name, focus of a schoolgirl crush, was to play the part of Manrico.....oh, wait a minute...

In case a passing reader isn't familiar with the story told in Il Travatore (The Troubadour): it is set in 15th century Spain, near Zaragoza, capital of Kingdom of Aragon. The Count di Luna, a nobleman, is in love with Leonora also of a noble background. Leonora, though, is in love with a troubadour, Manrico. There had been some nasty business in the past involving a gypsy woman who had cast a spell upon a baby son of the elder Count di Luna, that baby was brother of the present Count. Further nasty business ensued with each party promising revenge upon the other. These promises have reverberated from the past into present operatic scenarios. Mancico's stepmother, Azucena is involved in the revenge plot, via her mother who had been murdered by the elder Count di Luna. It's all a bit medieval soap-opera-ish, far fetched, tragic and vastly overdone. There's no happy ending. Leonora eventually promises herself to the Count in order to save Manrico's life, but then she takes a fatal dose of poison to save herself from the Count. Melodrama aplenty, but some wonderful meoldies among the more mundane-sounding narrative bits. The story itself was based on a play El trovador (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez.

Some of the most memorable of Verdi's melodies:

Here Ferrando, Captain of the Guard, tells his men the story of the elder Count's two sons.
Many years ago, a gypsy was wrongfully accused of having bewitched the youngest of the di Luna children; the child had fallen sick and for this the gypsy had been burnt alive as a witch, her protests of innocence ignored. Dying, she had commanded her daughter Azucena to avenge her, which she did by abducting the baby. Although the burnt bones of a child were found in the ashes of the pyre, the father refused to believe in his son's death; dying, he commanded his firstborn, the new Count di Luna, to seek Azucena.

Here's a familiar one....The Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles thrills an audience with Verdi's "Anvil Chorus", English name for the Coro di zingari ("Gypsy chorus"), from act 2, scene 1. Spanish Gypsies strike their anvils at dawn and sing the praises of hard work, good wine, and Gypsy women -
See how the clouds melt away
from the face of the sky when the sun shines, its brightness beaming;
just as a widow, discarding her black robes,
shows all her beauty in brilliance gleaming.

So, to work now!
Lift up your hammers!

Also in Act 2 is Azucena's aria Stride la Vampa, the old gypsy woman recounts her undying vow of vengeance on the Count di Luna who murdered her mother years before. She tells of the blazing flames among which her mother was put to death. Part translation:
Evil shines
upon horrible faces
beside the gloomy flame
that rises to the sky!
Screeches the blaze!
The victim arrives
dressed in black,
disheveled, barefoot!
A fierce shout
of death arises;
the echo repeats
from hill to hill!

Di quella pira', Manrico sings at the end of act 3. He is with Leonora in a room adjoining the chapel. They vow their love, and are about to take marriage vows when Manrico's comrade enters to report that Manrico's mother Azucena is to be burned at the stake. Manrico calls together his soldiers and sings of how they will save Azucena from death: "Di quella pira l'orrendo foco tutte le fibre m'arse avvampò!..." ("The horrible blaze of that pyre burns, enflames all of my being!...")

This aria is particularly famous for it's high C's which, for a tenor, is a very difficult note to hold. Malaysian tenor Solomon Chong sings the aria in this video.

Miserere - Manrico has failed to free Azucena and has been imprisoned himself. Leonora attempts to free him by begging Count di Luna for mercy. She offers herself in place of her lover. She promises to give herself to the Count, but secretly swallows poison from her ring in order to die before di Luna can possess her.


James Higham said...

Have trouble imagining you as that girl. ;-)

Twilight said...

James Higham ~ Really? I don't - but then I've known me for a very long time. :-)

mike said...

Such tragedy at the end of the dark ages...reminiscent of mythology...or Shakespeare...or real life! Things haven't changed much over the eons, as "Il Travatore" has many non-fiction, modern versions that our daily news will affirm. These tales are indeed timeless, and always impart that smaller-scale mini-wars are fractals of the endless dance of conflict and warfare on Earth. Interesting, too, is that we entertain ourselves with these stories, via novels, science fiction, plays, operas, music, movies...or Dateline, 20/20, Frontline, Cheaters, etc TV shows...LOL.

mike (again) said...

Regarding your dislike of the regimentation of school, were you a rebellious kid or did you just tolerate the disciplinary indoctrination? School, not education, but the institution of school, seems antithetical to a creative, imaginative childhood. My mother was very indifferent to her children's school requirement. If we didn't "feel" like going, she had no objections. It wasn't uncommon for me to have missed a month or more of school in any given academic year. It's too late to ask her for an explanation of her laxity, but it wasn't common behavior then or now. We always performed above average, if not exceptional, in our studies, so maybe that's why.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Yes, there's a definite Shakespearean flavour to this tale, and back from there to mythological characters. Class, power, lust, eternal triangles, soap operas, fairy tales, haven't we always loved 'em - just as we love ourselves - that's what they're all about. We can usually find a reflection of self in there somewhere :-)

(again) ~ I wasn't outwardly rebellious, no - just didn't really fit in (still don't, never!)

I missed around a month of lessons due to a bad bout of tonsilitis and ear problems during my first year of grammar school. That didn't help and put me behind. I was something of a "late bloomer" doing way, way better in my last year than any year before- actually won a prize and was among those with the best results in important exams. I could probably smell freedom then, and that inspiration fired me up. :-)

My parents were fairly easy going, I could, very occasionally, swing the odd day off, but no more than that. Your mother sounds to have been very unusual in her thinking on these matters. Didn't do you much harm it seems!

mike (again) said...

My mother was very interesting...a conundrum in most regards. She is a Virgo Asc with Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn conjunct in the very last degrees of Virgo...Gemini Moon. She was prim and proper against the backdrop of poverty. All our clothing except shoes came from the thrift stores...Mother would pride herself for her stylish looks that cost her a pittance. We always had astrology, spiritual, new age, UFO, and other assorted books in the house from the library...we went to the library weekly. She went to monthly UFO meetings in our town and was a devotee of the "Urantia" book, which had a spinoff group from the UFO group. She loved to garden, both flowers and vegetables and we always had a gorgeous yard. Conspiracy theories easily attracted her attention, specially the Art Bell Show type of talk radio. She had my aura read when I was about eight or nine. She was often psychic, but couldn't control it...infrequent visions occurred with uncanny accuracy. She always said that this life on Earth was similar to a movie...we were all simply playing our roles...she later updated that view to be like computer simulation.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Oh my - what an interesting, and I bet lovely, lady! Doesn't sound typically Virgoan though, apart from her "prim and proper". :-)