Gypsies! Curses! Brothers switched at birth! A love triangle! Tragic deaths! Verdi's Il Trovatore truly has everything. The opera was a huge popular success when it first premiered, and it today remains one of the top 20 operas performed around the world. Learn more about the history of this work at Lyric.

Gypsies! Curses! Brothers switched at birth! A love triangle! Tragic deaths! Verdi's Il Trovatore truly has everything. The opera was a hugely popular success when it premiered, and it today remains one of the 20 most popular operas performed around the world.

Before you come and see Yonghoon Lee, Amber Wagner, Stephanie Blythe, and Quinn Kelsey in Sir David McVicar's production later this season, take a look at some past productions of this great opera throughout Lyric's history.

1955 

Il Trovatore had its company premiere in 1955, the second season of Lyric Theatre of Chicago. This production was conducted by company co-founder Nicola Rescigno and featured an all-star cast that included tenor Jussi Björling. Maria Callas—who had just made her American debut in Chicago in 1954—was making her second of three appearances in the 1955 season as Leonora. Callas had appeared in three productions in Lyric's inaugural season. Her sixth and final opera appearance at Lyric also came in 1955 when she played Cio-Cio San in her only staged performances of Puccini's Madama Butterfly. In the photo below, she is greeting Metropolitan Opera general manager Rudolf Bing after one of her Trovatore performances.

1956 & 1958 

Though there are no pictures of Lyric's 1956 production of Il Trovatore, it was notable in that it was the American debut of Bruno Bartoletti, Lyric's future artistic director and principal conductor. Replacing his mentor, Tullio Serafin, Bartoletti would win rave reviews and the admiration of Carol Fox, who would later appoint him co-artistic director with Pino Donati. 

The 1958 production was conducted by Lee Schaenen and featured Ettore Bastianini and Jussi Björling returning as di Luna and Manrico, with Elinor Ross as Leonora and the great Giulietta Simionato as Azucena.

Pictured below (clockwise from top left): Jussi Björling, Anna-Lisa Björling, and Ettore Bastianini read backstage; Leonora (Ross) and Manrico (Björling); Azucena (Simionato) confronts di Luna (Bastianini) as Leonora (Ross) lies dead.  

1964 

This new-to-Lyric production was imported from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, where it had been performed a few years earlier. Lyric's stage director was Christopher West and the set and costumes were created by the design group Motley, whose sketches are below. 

Grace Bumbry portrayed Azucena, with Franco Corelli as Manrico (one of his signature roles), along with Ilva Ligabue (Leonora), and  Mario Zanasi (di Luna) completing the leading quartet. Bruno Bartoletti returned to conduct in his first season as co-artistic director.

Pictured above (clockwise from left): Azucena (Bumbry) and Manrico (Corelli); Manrico (Corelli) and Leonora (Ligabue); and di Luna (Zanasi) and Leonora (Ligabue).

This production is also notable for featuring in Count di Luna's army some supernumeraries from Chicago's Kelvyn Park High School, including a young Mike Gross. He would, of course, later go on to achieve huge success as Steven Keaton in Family Ties.

1987-88 

After more than a 20-year absence from Lyric's stage, ll Trovatore would return in a new production from director Sonja Frisell (designed by Nicola Benois) with Bruno Bartoletti on the podium. Pictured below (clockwise from top left) are Giuliano Ciannella as Manrico and Shirley Verrett as Azucena; a view of the set;  Leo Nucci as Count di Luna; and Anna Tomowa-Sintow as Leonora.

1993-94 

This was a revival of Frisell's production, last seen in 1987-88 (this time with conductor Richard Buckley), but these performances of Il Trovatore were notable for featuring the new Verdi critical edition that had just been released by the University of Chicago Press. Dolora Zajick portrayed Azucena—one of her most acclaimed roles—with Chris Merritt (Manrico), Paolo Gavanelli (di Luna), and Lyubov Kazarnovskaya (Leonora).

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): Manrico (Merritt) and Azucena (Zajick); Azucena (Zajick) confronts di Luna (Gavanelli); Leonora (Kazarnovskaya) and Manrico (Merritt); and Leonora (Kazarnovskaya), Manrico (Merritt), and di Luna (Gavanelli). 

2006-07 

A decade after its last Lyric performance, Sir David McVicar updated the action to Spain in the early 1800s, during the Peninsular Wars. The sets, designed by Charles Edwards, were inspired by the paintings of Goya and are grounded by an impenetrable castle wall. Due to the change in period, the gypsies actually have something to do during the Anvil Chorus—they are making weapons for the revolution!

Dolora Zajick reprised her 1993-94 role as Azucena, with Walter Fraccaro as Manrico, Sondra Radvanovsky as Leonora, and Mark Delavan as Count di Luna. This production is also notable because it would be Bruno Bartoletti's second-to-last appearance on Lyric's podium. He would return to open the 2007-08 season with La Traviata, his final Lyric appearance.

Pictured above (clockwise from top left): Azucena (Zajick); the Anvil Chorus scene; Manrico (Fraccaro) and Leonora (Radvanovsky); di Luna (Delavan) and Manrico (Fraccaro) duel in front of Leonora (Radvanovsky).

 Photo credits:

  • 1955 - photo courtesy Lyric Opera of Chicago Archives
  • 1958 - Björling/Bastianini backstage photo courtesy Chicago Daily News; production photos credit Nancy Sorensen.
  • 1964 - photos credit David H. Fishman; super photo courtesy Michael Gross
  • 1987-88 - photos credit Tony Romano
  • 1993-94 - photos credit Dan Rest
  • 2006-07 - photos credit Dan Rest, except Anvil Chorus (credit Robert Kusel).