The famous tenor, Enrico Caruso, was quoted as saying, “All that is needed for a successful performance of Il trovatore are the four greatest singers in the world.” Having sung the role of Manrico many times, he certainly knew whereof he spoke.
Il trovatore is not often staged today in America, partly for this reason, although it is seen more often in Europe. It was performed more frequently in earlier times and there exist many excellent recordings from the 1920s into the 80s, featuring some of the greatest singers of the 20th century giving their vocal tours de force. Look for the following singers for a great listening experience: sopranos – Leontyne Price, Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Rosa Ponselle, Zinka Milanov and Joan Sutherland; tenors – Franco Corelli, Mario Del Monaco, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi; mezzo sopranos – Giulietta Simionato, Fiorenza Cossotto, Shirley Verrett and Ebe Stignani; baritones – Leonard Warren, Ettore Bastianini, Robert Merrill, Piero Cappuccilli and Sherrill Milnes.
Central City Opera’s Artistic and Music Directors, Pelham Pearce and John Baril, both agree that one of the great full-length audio recordings from that era is a live performance at the Salzburg Festival in 1962, starring Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli, Giulietta Simionato, Ettore Bastianini, and conducted by Herbert von Karajan.
Another of Mr. Pearce’s favorite Il trovatore moments is heard in Luciano Pavarotti’s 30th Anniversary Concert from 1991. Hear 9 minutes of brilliance starting at 1:00:05 as Pavarotti and Shirley Verrett sing Manrico and Azucena’s duet, “Madre non dormi.”
A few featured arias to check out:
Maria Callas sings “Tacea la notte placida”
Caruso, Corelli and Pavarotti sing “Di quella pira”
Ettore Bastianini sings “Il Balen del suo sorriso”
Fiorenza Cossotto sings “Stride la vampa”
Some of today’s famous singers have taken on Il trovatore, but far fewer recordings exist. Fans of Anna Netrebko, Renee Fleming, Jonas Kaufmann, Dolora Zajick and Dmitri Hvorostovsky can find excerpts on YouTube.