Il Trovatore, 1853
As the large Italian chorus sing the praises of hard work, good wine, and gypsy women, the effect is striking in every sense of the word: the dull chime of the anvil adds a unique tone to the now famous tune, and there's something quite hypnotic about the view of a stage full of people hitting hammers on every other beat as they sing. (ROH) Coincidence? Wagner finished Das Reingold in 1853!  He used the heavy metal very differently.  The gods descend to Neibelheim to sound of 18 anvils - nine small, six medium, and three large - tuned to F three octaves apart .  Then in the next opera, Siegfried forges the magic sword with just one anvil in the central moment of drama.

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Synopsis Libretto   Background

The implausible story

Budden calls it  "a high flown, sprawling melodrama flamboyantly defiant of the Aristotelian unities, packed with all manner of fantastic and bizarre incident.  It is partly a love story, partly a drama of vengeance with the underlying irony that the two rivals in love – who are also enemies in a civil war – are brothers without knowing it.”  (Budden, The Operas of Verdi, Vol. II) Its origins are in the wildly successful Spanish play El trovador (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez, but the librettist, Cammarano, was traditionalist about opera (writing cavatinas and arias rather than drama) and conservative about morality (objecting for example to a nun escaping from the convent with a troubadour who sings that not even God shall keep her from him). The long preparation was full of debate between them, including this letter from Verdi: If in opera there were neither cavatinas, duets, trios, choruses, finales, etcetera, and the whole work consisted, let’s say, of a single number I should find that all the more right and proper… these separate numbers, with changes of scene in between, seem to be designed for the concert hall rather than the stage.  Cammarano died just before performance date, in 1852.  Verdi finished the libretto with Bardare.

The smash hit music

Look for the dramatic conflict of the central four characters through their music. Intriguing discussion here.  The angst of the plot gave the music a “darkness” and light and dark conflict. Read a brief but penetrating essay  about this. The magnificent music made the opera highly popular, for which it was often criticised! Verdi’s music was meant to please a public wholly childlike in its emotions and impulses, and it achieved, as it still achieves, that purpose. The Count’s great bass aria "Il Balen,"   the bright "Anvil Chorus" of the gipsies  , Manrico’s spirited air "Di Quella Pira,"   his tender duet with Azucena, the great "Miserere,"   and the effective prison scene, there are not made of the stuff that is found in Wagner; but… they are wholly good and appropriate in their own fluent way, and even the classicist must acknowledge their direct melodic charm. (MusicWithEase)

Anvils in Opera

The Anvil Chorus was an immediate hit, cheerfully bringing the noisy world of the gypsies to colourful life.    Verdi specified the singers, not the orchestra members, should hit the anvils.

Friday June 8th

Our presentation: Placído Domingo (Manrico), Fiorenza Cossoto (Azucena), Raina Kabaivanska (Leonora), Piero Cappuccilli (Luna). Wiener Staatsoper, 1978. “Herbert von Karajan conducts his crack Vienna orchestra as if he is leading his own invasion of Spain.”