Synopsis: Il trovatore
Act I: The Duel; Fifteenth century; Biscay and Aragon (Spain)
Scene I: The Castle of di Luna (The Palace of Aljafería, Zaragoza)
Ferrando, the Captain of the Guard, orders his men to keep watch while Count di Luna wanders restlessly beneath the windows of Leonora, lady-in-waiting to the Princess. The count loves Leonora, and is jealous of his successful rival, the troubadour Manrico. In order to keep the guards awake, Ferrando narrates the history of the count’s family to the guard, “Di due figli vivea padre beato” (The good Count di Luna lived happily, the father of two sons). It appears that a Gypsy had once bewitched the little brother of the count, making the child weak and ill, and for this, she was burnt alive as a witch. Dying, she commanded her daughter Azucena to avenge her, which Azucena did by carrying off the younger brother. Although the burned bones of a child were found in the ashes of the pyre, the father refused to believe it was his son who had died; on his deathbead, he commanded his remaining son to find his brother.
Scene II: Garden of the Castle of di Luna
Leonora confesses her love for Manrico to her confidante, Ines, “Tacea la notte placida” (The peaceful night lay silent) and “Di tale amor” (A love that words can scarcely describe). When they have gone, Count di Luna hears the voice of his rival, Manrico, in the distance, “Deserto sulla terra” (Alone upon this earth). While Leonora in the darkness mistakes the count for her lover, Manrico himself enters the garden, and she rushes to him. Count di Luna recognises Manrico as his enemy, who has been condemned to death, and compels him to fight. Leonora tries to intervene, but cannot stop them from fighting, “Di geloso amor sprezzato” (The fire of jealous love).
Act II: The Gypsy Woman
Scene I: The Gypsies’ camp
Several weeks later, Manrico sits at the fireside by his mother, Azucena, while the Gypsies sing the Anvil Chorus, “Vedi le fosche notturne” (See! The endless sky casts off her sombre nightly garb). She is the daughter of the Gypsy burnt by the count and she still relives the horror of her mother’s cruel death, “Stride la vampa” (The flames are roaring!). The Gypsies break camp while Azucena confesses to Manrico that after stealing the count’s little son she had intended to burn him, but delirious, had thrown her own child into the flames, “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” (They dragged her in bonds). Manrico tells Azucena that he defeated Count di Luna in the battlefield, but was held back from killing him by a mysterious power, “Mal reggendo” (He was helpless under my savage attack). A messenger arrives and reports that Leonora, who believes Manrico dead, will to enter a convent and take the veil that night. Although Azucena tries to prevent him from leaving in his weak state, “Ferma! Son io che parlo a te!” (I must talk to you), Manrico rushes away to prevent Leonora from becoming a nun.
Scene II: In front of the convent
Count di Luna and his attendants arrive at the convent with the intention of abducting Leonora. As he waits, the count sings of his love for her, “Il balen del suo sorriso” (The light of her smile) and “Per me ora fatale” (Fatal hour of my life). Leonora and the nuns appear in procession, but Manrico prevents the count from carrying out his plans and instead, takes Leonora away with him.
Act III: The Son of the Gypsy Woman
Scene I: Count di Luna’s camp in front of Castellor, a rebel stronghold
“Or co’ dadi ma fra poco” (Now we play at dice), Count di Luna’s soldiers bring in the captured Azucena. She is recognised by Ferrando, and the count sentences her to be burnt at the stake.
Scene II: A chamber in Castellor Leonora and Manrico live only for each other, (Manrico) “Ah si, ben mio coll’essere” (Ah, yes, my love, in being yours). As they are about to take their marriage vows, Ruiz, Manrico’s comrade, reports that Azucena is to be burned at the stake. Manrico rushes to her aid, “Di quella pira l’orrendo foco” (The horrid flames of that pyre). Helpless to stop him, Leonora retires in despair.
Act IV: The Punishment
Scene I: Before the dungeon keep of the Castle of di Luna
Manrico has lost the battle and is held prisoner with his mother as they await their executions. Leonora arrives at the dungeon with the intention of somehow freeing
Manrico, “D’amor sull’ali rosee” (On the rosy wings of love), “Miserere” (Lord, thy mercy on this soul). Leonora begs Count di Luna for mercy and offers herself in place of her lover. She promises to give herself to the count, but secretly swallows poison in order to die before the count can possess her, “Mira, d’acerbe lagrime” (See the bitter tears I shed).
Scene II: In the dungeon
Manrico attempts to soothe Azucena, whose mind wanders to happier days in the mountains, “Ai nostri monti ritorneremo” (Again to our mountains we shall return). At last the Gypsy slumbers. Leonora comes to Manrico and tells him that he is saved, begging him to escape. When Manrico discovers she cannot accompany him, he refuses to leave without her. Manrico believes Leonora has betrayed him until he realizes that she has taken poison to remain true to him. As she dies in Manrico’s arms she confesses that she prefers to die with him rather than to marry another, “Prima che d’altri vivere” (Rather than live as another’s). Count di Luna enters to find Leonora dead in his rival’s arms and orders Manrico to be led to execution. Azucena arises and when the count shows her the dead Manrico, she cries, “Egli era tuo fratello!” (He was your brother. You are avenged, oh mother!). The count exclaims in despair, “E vivo ancor!” (And I must live on!).