Opera Scotland

Trovatore in Scotland

Posted 10 May 2015

The first performance in Scotland, at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal, took place on 21 January 1856, almost three years to the day after the Rome premiere. The company, largely of Italians touring from their London base, included Mesdames Fodor and Widmann as Leonora and Azucena. The leading men were Signori Neri Baraldi (tenor) and Monardi (baritone).

It seems clear that in Scotland over most of the nineteenth century Il trovatore was the most popular and frequently performed of Verdi's operatic works. A week of opera hardly seemed complete without it. Of operas by foreign composers, only Faust and Carmen seem to have rivalled it in popularity.

The 1861 visit boasted the great singing actress Therese Tietjens as Leonora. German by birth, she made her home in London, and was a favourite performer for over fifteen years. Our image shows her as Lucretia Borgia. On a Glasgow visit of 1874, she was joined by another star of the age, Zélia Trebelli-Bettini, as Azucena.

1869 saw the first Trovatore performances in English. The Scottish soprano Ida Gilliess, based, with her husband, bass Henry Corri, at Covent Garden, toured it extensively (they actually married while performing in Dundee). In 1873, the famous Carl Rosa company was formed, and Trovatore was rarely absent from its repertoire, right through to its closure in 1958.

The Moody-Manners, O'Mara, Cunningham and other companies also provided operatic entertainment for audiences all over Scotland. Trovatore was standard fare and dozens of performances were given, with sopranos including Alwina Valleria, Marie Roze, Georgina Burns, Ella Russell and Beatrice Miranda, with Carl Rosa alone. Azucenas with that company ranged from Louise Lablache and Josephine Yorke to Louise Kirkby Lunn, Doris Woodall and Gladys Parr. The Carl Rosa had particular success in persuading star international tenors to learn Manrico in English, so Scottish audiences heard the Russian Philip Brozel and Romanian Jean Dimitresco, as well as Barton McGuckin and other Brits. Baritones who performed Luna with the Rosa included Charles Santley, Leslie Crotty and Hebden Foster.

Scottish Opera first tackled the work in 1986. Graham Vick's staging provided a successful updating to the Spanish Civil War period, with Graeme Jenkins conducting a cast led by Janice Cairns, Patricia Payne, Angelo Marenzi and Jacek Strauch. The present 1992 production, introduced the monumentally atmospheric set of Tim Hatley, together with Richard Armstrong's dramatically idiomatic conducting. The first run, directed by Mark Brickman, featured recent Cardiff winner Lisa Gasteen as Leonora with Kenneth Collins and Dennis O'Neill as Manrico. Two Bolshoi stars, Vladimir Redkin and Ludmila Nam, came in as Luna and Azucena.

The 1996 revival featured Penelope Walmsley-Clark and Anne-Marie Owens as Leonora and Azucena. Jason Howard played Luna, with Deng as Manrico, though on one occasion young tenor Ian Storey came in, looking so similar to the baritone that Leonora's confusion was suddenly credible. The director was Karen Howard. The most recent revival, in 2001, was effectively steered by Peter Watson, with a cast including Svetelina Vassileva and Anne-Marie Owens. The leading men were tenor John Hudson and baritone Richard Zeller. Armstrong rethought his musical approach, returning to Verdi's original score, without all the high notes that had been introduced over the years.

During the fifties, a company of Italian singers toured Britain most years. 1954 saw performances of Il trovatore in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. Manrico was sung by Pier Miranda Ferraro, who later appeared with Scottish Opera as Otello. Leonora was Kyra Vayne. There has only ever been one appearance at the Edinburgh International Festival, when in 2004 the Hanover Opera brought a production by the frequently controversial Catalan director Calixto Bieito. 

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