Stride la Vampa!
Last year I got to explore some of the heavier repertoire for the mezzo soprano voice and included in this was the aria Stride la Vampa! from Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore. As soon as I listened to the piece and read the story behind it I fell in love with it. The mystical undercurrents in the music and the horror and madness conveyed with the lyrics really spoke to me and I would love to be able to do Azucena on stage for real one day.
Il Trovatore is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi and on the surface it is about the love triangle between the troubadour Manrico, Count di Luna (junior) and the lady in waiting Leonora. But beneath it all is the story about the gypsy woman Azucena and her quest for revenge on Count di Luna (senior). The story is quite complex and thrilling and below is a somewhat brief synopsis taken from the wiki-article about the opera.
Act 1: The Duel
Scene 1: The guard room in the castle of Luna
Ferrando, the captain of the guards, orders his men to keep watch while Count di Luna wanders restlessly beneath the windows of Leonora, lady-in-waiting to the Princess. Di Luna loves Leonora and is jealous of his successful rival, the troubadour Manrico. In order to keep the guards awake, Ferrando narrates the history of the count: many years ago, a gypsy was wrongfully accused of having bewitched the youngest of the di Luna children; the child had fallen sick and for this the gypsy had been burnt alive as a witch, her protests of innocence ignored. Dying, she had commanded her daughter Azucena to avenge her, which she did by abducting the baby. Although the burnt bones of a child were found in the ashes of the pyre, the father refused to believe in his son’s death; dying, he commanded his firstborn, the new Count di Luna, to seek Azucena.
Scene 2: Garden in the palace of the princess
Leonora confesses her love for Manrico to her confidante, Ines. When they have gone, Count di Luna hears the voice of his rival, Manrico, in the distance. While Leonora in the darkness mistakes the count for her lover, Manrico himself enters the garden, and she rushes to his arms. The count recognises Manrico as his enemy, who has also been condemned to death due to his political affiliations, and challenges him to a duel over their common love. Leonora tries to intervene, but cannot stop them from fighting.
Act 2: The Gypsy Woman
Scene 1: The gypsies’ camp
The gypsies sing as they work by their anvils. Azucena, the daughter of the Gypsy burnt by the count, is still haunted by her duty to avenge her mother (Stride la Vampa!). The Gypsies break camp while Azucena confesses to Manrico that after stealing the di Luna baby she had intended to burn the count’s little son along with her mother, but overwhelmed by the screams and the gruesome scene of her mother’s execution, she became confused and threw her own child into the flames instead.
Manrico realises that he is not the son of Azucena, but loves her as if she were indeed his mother, as she has always been faithful and loving to him. Manrico tells Azucena that he defeated di Luna in their duel, but was held back from killing him by a mysterious power. A messenger arrives and reports that Leonora, who believes Manrico dead, is about to enter a convent and take the veil that night. Although Azucena tries to prevent him from leaving in his weak state, Manrico rushes away to prevent her from carrying out this intent.
Scene 2: In front of the convent
Di Luna and his attendants intend to abduct Leonora and the Count sings of his love for her. Leonora and the nuns appear in procession, but Manrico prevents di Luna from carrying out his plans and takes Leonora away with him.
Act 3: The Son of the Gypsy Woman
Scene 1: Di Luna’s camp
Di Luna and his army are attacking the fortress Castellor where Manrico has taken refuge with Leonora. Ferrando drags in Azucena, who has been captured wandering near the camp. When she hears di Luna’s name, Azucena’s reactions arouse suspicion and Ferrando recognizes her as the murderer of the count’s brother. Azucena cries out to her son Manrico to rescue her and the count realizes that he has the means to flush his enemy out of the fortress. He orders his men to build a pyre and burn Azucena before the walls.
Scene 2: A chamber in the castle
Inside the castle, Manrico and Leonora are preparing to be married. She is frightened; the battle with di Luna is imminent and Manrico’s forces are outnumbered. He assures her of his love, even in the face of death. When news of Azucena’s capture reaches him, he summons his men and desperately prepares to attack. Leonora faints.
Act 4: The Punishment
Scene 1: Before the dungeon keep
Manrico has failed to free Azucena and has been imprisoned himself. Leonora attempts to free him by begging di Luna for mercy and offers herself in place of her lover. She promises to give herself to the count, but secretly swallows poison from her ring in order to die before di Luna can possess her.
Scene 2: In the dungeon
Manrico and Azucena are awaiting their execution. Manrico attempts to soothe Azucena, whose mind wanders to happier days in the mountains. At last the gypsy slumbers. Leonora comes to Manrico and tells him that he is saved, begging him to escape. When he discovers she cannot accompany him, he refuses to leave his prison. He believes Leonora has betrayed him until he realizes that she has taken poison to remain true to him. As she dies in agony in Manrico’s arms she confesses that she prefers to die with him than to marry another. The count has heard Leonora’s last words and orders Manrico’s execution. Azucena awakes and tries to stop di Luna. Once Manrico is dead, she cries: Egli era tuo fratello! Sei vendicata, o madre. / “He was your brother … You are avenged, oh mother!”
Below is a recording of me performing Stride la Vampa! at my senior recital this spring.