Lyric Opera Revitalizes Verdi’s Dark and Passionate Opera “Il trovatore” with Triumph

Courtesy of Robert KuselThe “Il trovatore” cast performs “Anvil Chorus,” a well-known operatic chorus.

The Lyric Opera House (20 N. Wacker Drive) continues its season with renowned Italian opera writer Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il trovatore.” The melodrama plot has elements suitable to every viewer’s preference.

Debuted Nov. 17 for a sold-out performance, Verdi’s masterpiece combines curses, kidnapping, mistaken identities, revenge and love to create an entertaining performance perfect for someone’s first experience.

Lyric’s revival of Verdi’s opera is fronted by a stellar cast combining both new and returning talents, including both American and European singers. Scottish opera and theater director Sir David McVicar returned to Lyric with his production of “Il trovatore,” which he created after its original run in the 2006-07 season. 

Like many operas, “Il trovatore” is intricately complex, packaging several plot lines into its four acts. Set in 15th century Spain, the opera stories a mother’s love clashed with a dark secret of her past paralleled to the account of two rival soldiers (American tenor Russell Thomas and Romanian baritone George Petean) feuding over the hand of a noblewoman, Leonora (American soprano Tamara Wilson).

“Il trovatore” opens with a monologue from the captain of the guards, Ferrando (Italian bass Roberto Tagliavini), detailing the sibylline story of Azucena (American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton). Azucena is a deeply troubled gypsy and the opera’s central character.

Azucena is enraged after seeing her mother lurking over the cradle of the young son of Count di Luna. The gypsy attempts to murder the son of her enemy, but instead kills her son by throwing him into a smoldering fire.

In an effort to redeem herself, Azucena raises the kidnapped boy, Manrico (Thomas), who later crosses paths with the present Count di Luna (Petean), his sworn enemy. 

Both Manrico and Count di Luna pine after Leonora. Their battle for her hand leads to an unexpected sacrifice and a stunning family revelation. 

Hues of red and orange with dark undertones visualized scenes of battle and pain, complementing Verdi’s darkly intense music. Italian conductor Marco Armiliato led the orchestra for “Il trovatore,” featuring pieces “Di quella pira” and “Anvil Chorus,” one of the most famous operatic choruses.

“Il trovatore” is an opera better suited for ears than eyes. Make no mistake, the set was stunning and added crucial elements to the dark and gloomy nature of the opera. But as is the case with most operas, audiences come for the singing, and “Il trovatore” delivers in every regard. 

Intense emotion is conveyed through the music itself. The actor’s body language and acting are visual aids to the performance, but the heart of the performance is in the score.

Wilson’s performance of Leonora marks her debut with the Lyric, and her voice radiated throughout every corner of the grandiose auditorium.

Thomas returned to Lyric after debuting as Pollione in the 2016-17 production of “Norma” and delivered an incredible performance as Manrico, imbibing every tone with courage and heroism to instill a deep sense of empathy in audiences. Making his Lyric debut as Manrico’s rival, Petean successfully convinced audiences of his character’s self-serving motives through his voice.

Most audiences won’t understand the Italian-language dialogue, but English subtitles are projected over the stage. Subtitles don’t correlate to every lyric, and since it can become tiresome to look back and forth between subtitles and the action on stage, the opera is best enjoyed staying focused on the stirring performance.

“Il Trovatore” runs through Dec. 9. Tickets cost $39-$279 and can be purchased online at or by calling 312-827-5600. Students can sign up for Lyric’s NEXT program and purchase tickets for $20.

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