Sir David McVicar’s take on Il Trovatore returns to Lyric in the
2014-15 season in all of its oversized glory. Though the story is as wild
as they come, with gypsy curses, mistaken identities, love triangles, and
executions coming at a breakneck pace, this work has enjoyed enduring
popularity—and it’s not hard to see why.
Filled with great music, including the majestic and
instantly recognizable Anvil Chorus, the work is still popular with companies and
audiences alike. The opera was written during Verdi’s most successful period;
between 1851 and 1853, his greatest hits of Rigoletto,
Il Trovatore, and La Traviata
were all premiered. Within a year of its
first performance in Rome, Il Trovatore was
presented in 30 theaters throughout Italy and beyond; over the next few years
it swept the globe, with performances in places as far-flung as Russia,
Argentina, Egypt, and Australia. Even today, it’s still among the top 20
most-presented operas in the world.
At Lyric, Il Trovatore
has been a part of the company from the very beginning. Lyric—or the Lyric
Theatre of Chicago as it was known then—actually presented the opera three
times within its first few years: in 1955, 1956, and 1958. The 1955 production
featured company co-founder Nicola Rescigno conducting and an all-star cast,
including Maria Callas as Leonora.
This was the second role of three roles she would perform that season, having
made her American debut in Lyric Theatre’s first season one year prior. Ettore
Bastianini and Robert Weede split performances as the evil Count di Luna; star
tenor Jussi Björling was Manrico; and Ebe Stignani and Claramae Turner shared
the role of Azucena.
Former artistic director and principal conductor Bruno Bartoletti made his American
debut at Lyric with this opera in 1956. Though accidental, this debut proved to be
auspicious. Bartoletti was actually a replacement for his mentor Tullio
Serafin, who had become ill before he could come to Chicago. The eminent Tito
Gobbi recommended Bartoletti to company director Carol Fox. That particular
production starred Claramae Turner (Azucena), Ettore Bastianini (di Luna),
Jussi Björling (Manrico)—all returning from previous appearances—and Herva
Nelli and Gertrude Ribia sharing the role of Leonora.
The 1958 production was conducted by Lee Schaenen, and
featured Bastianini and Björling returning as di Luna and Manrico, with Elinor
Ross as Leonora and Giuletta Simionato as Azucena.
Il Trovatore was
presented only once in the 1960s. Bartoletti returned to lead a
new-to-Lyric production directed by Christopher
West, first seen at the Metropolitan Opera. The 1964 season was Bartoletti’s first as
co-artistic director. This Trovatore was
stocked with another amazing cast: Grace Bumbry as Azucena, Franco Corelli
performing one of his signature roles of Manrico, Ilva Ligabue as Leonora, and
Maria Zanasi as di Luna.
The 1964 production is also notable because a young Michael
Gross, then a student at Kelvyn Park High School, appeared as a supernumerary,
portraying a soldier in Count di Luna’s army. This Chicago native would later
go on to star as the iconic TV dad Steven Keaton on Family Ties!
Jumping ahead in Lyric’s history, this season’s presentation
of Sir David McVicar’s Goya-influenced concept features yet another cast of
stars: the incomparable Stephanie Blythe as Azucena and Younghoon Lee as
Manrico, as well as Ryan Opera Center alums Quinn Kelsey and Amber Wagner
returning to Lyric as Count di Luna and Leonora, respectively. These dynamic
singers bring passion and vocal prowess to the stage in a production that
emphasizes the very real emotions behind this high-flying epic.
Read more about the
history of Il Trovatore about Lyric,
with even more photos, on Lyric’s blog!