Manrico in Il Trovatore: Who is he?
In 1849, Meyerbeer's Le Prophete introduces certain startling patterns
for that time in opera: there is the unaccustomed (though not
unprecedented) dominance of an unequivocally mezzo role combined with
the tenor's having to make, at one point, a choice for that mezzo
character -- his mum! -- over the Falcon role -- his sweetheart.
Verdi, in 1853, picks up Le Prophete's new pattern in Il Trovatore.
Granted, cultural differences between our Anglo world and the world of
the romance languages, both French (Le Prophete) and Italian (Il
Trovatore), may impact on varying standards of what it means to be the
"hero". Sometimes in the Anglo world, making a choice for the Mom can
make one a "Momma's boy", but that may not necessarily carry the same
pejorative connotations in France and/or Italy. Still, to be the hero
and to engage, in addition to a dependency on "Mom", in a game of
self-deception as well(!) does bring the concept of the "hero" into
question, and this self-deception is what Manrico seems to do in
parallelling Jean's choice in Prophete in favor of the Mom, even
though Jean makes his choice with open eyes, while Manrico seems
profoundly unaware of the game he's playing with himself.
Consider: To begin with, Manrico's vocal line contrasts the intense
and the heroic versus the lyrical and the contemplative. The latter
conveys Manrico as the artist, the troubadour, the man of imagination.
The former depicts him as the revolutionary, the gypsy, the follower
of Urgel. It seems to me the librettist, Cammarano, conceives
of the revolutionary as the real Manrico and the lyrical artist as a
put-on, rather than a genuine projection of Manrico's soul - the
opposite of what a genuine artist's art would be. Verdi's music
reflects the polarities in the libretto. Does he maintain an aura of
artifice around the lyrical moments?
We first hear Manrico in his "deserto" serenade as the contemplative
artist, creating a song for his lady love, Leonora. He weaves a
self-created persona, constructing a world unrelated to his gypsy
camp, his Mom and his political activism. The divide between these two
worlds is never bridged, not in the text and not in Verdi's music. I
find it odd that the only duet moments with Leonora are a fleeting
duettino between Manrico's cavatina and his cabaletta, and a
full-length duet intruded on by the chorus with Manrico entirely off
stage, and this too is placed between a cavatina and a cabaletta. But
our "hero" has in Act II one extended duet scene with Azucena, which
is a full-bore two-part duet with both of them on stage throughout,
together with yet another onstage duet for the two of them in the last
scene of the opera for good measure.
Verdi states in his correspondence that he views Azucena as more
important than Leonora, and certainly, musically, the relationship
between Azucena and the "hero" is explored in much greater depth than
that between Leonora and Manrico, who always seem to have an angry
baritone, or a fire-reporting comprimario, or a funereal chorus, or a
sleeping but mumbling mezzo to keep them company.
Who is "the woman" in Manrico's life? Here is where his game of
self-deception comes in. Not only does he never really "duet" with
Leonora, but his "poetry" to Leonora (the serenade, "Ah! si ben mio",
and his offstage verse in the Miserere) is an (unconscious?) lie. "Ah!
si ben mio" can stand for the whole: he says he will die with
Leonora's name on his lips. That is put to the test in the final
scene: With poor Leonora dead at his feet(!), he is dragged to his
execution, and what does he say? "Madre addio!"
My two cents,