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Conte di Luna’s soldiers listen to Ferrando, their captain, who tells them that the Conte’s father once burned an old Gypsy woman at the stake for witchcraft. In revenge, the Gypsy’s daughter, Azucena, stole di Luna’s infant brother, García, and threw him into the fire, killing the child.
Leonora confides to her companion, Inez, that she has fallen in love with an unknown troubadour-knight who has serenaded her. Inez has doubts about the stranger, but Leonora cannot forget him. After the two women enter the palace, Conte di Luna appears, intent on courting Leonora. He is interrupted by the mysterious troubadour’s song. The troubadour reveals his identity as Manrico, the leader of the rebel forces and challenges the Conte to a duel.
As day breaks, the Gypsies are hammering on their anvils and working at their handicrafts. In a trance, Azucena relives the events of her mother’s death at the execution pyre. In near delirium, she tells of how in the ensuing confusion, she threw her own son into the fire instead of di Luna’s brother. Manrico, who has always believed Azucena to be his mother, is puzzled by what he has heard. After regaining her senses, Azucena convinces him that he is indeed her son. A messenger brings news that Leonora, thinking Manrico is dead, plans to join a convent. Despite Azucena’s protests, Manrico rushes off to find Leonora.
At the convent, the Conte waits with his men to kidnap Leonora. Manrico arrives with his own soldiers just in time to prevent the abduction and escapes with Leonora.
A Gypsy woman has been captured roaming outside di Luna’s army camp. Ferrando recognizes her as Azucena. Di Luna is delighted to learn that his prisoner is Manrico’s mother and he orders her to be burned alive.
Inside the fortress of Castellor, Leonora and Manrico are about to be married. Ruiz, Manrico’s friend, arrives with the news that Azucena has been captured and is about to be burned at the stake. Manrico hurries off to save her.
Having lost the battle with di Luna, Manrico languishes in prison together with Azucena. Leonora, determined to save the troubadour’s life at any cost, promises herself to di Luna in exchange for Manrico’s freedom. The Conte agrees to the bargain, and as he arranges for Manrico’s release, Leonora swallows a deadly poison.
Manrico tries to comfort Azucena, reminiscing over their peaceful days in the mountains. Leonora enters, telling Manrico that he is free, but he suspects the price of his freedom and curses her. He realizes his mistake when she collapses. Just as Leonora tells Manrico with her dying breath that she has chosen to die rather than live without him, di Luna enters. Enraged, the Conte orders Manrico to be executed. Azucena awakens to Manrico’s cries and di Luna forces her to witness the killing. The Gypsy reveals to the Conte that Manrico was his brother. Crying out “Mother, you are avenged!,” she falls lifeless to the ground.
Ramón Vargas as Manrico and Elza van den Heever as Leonora in in the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Il Trovatore, 2012. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2012