Comprehending Trovatore

A battleship in Il Trovatore in Marx Brothers A Night at the Opera

Nearly three years ago, I announced a new podcast called “Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera”. I truly had no idea what I was doing, and proudly said so. I’ve always been a medium-is-the-message guy, and the podcast medium just has an energy and a freshness these days that attracts me like no other entertainment form.

Maybe what attracts me is the serendipity of scrolling through bulging lists of newly-launched podcasts on any topic I can think of. Maybe it’s the shabby-chic style that dominates podcasting. Today’s community of podcast creators and listeners is the bustling agora, the meeting place of every knowledge-based virtual global community. It’s a friendly, casual world, easy to enter and easy to quit. Most importantly – despite a lot of hype, most podcasters do it for passion, not money.

The thriving creative podcast scene of the late 2010s and early 2020s reminds me of USENET and the brand-new World Wide Web in the early 1990s, a scene I wrote about in my Silicon Alley memoir. The burgeoning creativity and spontaneity reminds me of the utopian-flavored early Internet, and I guess that explains why I’m having a good time with the format now.

I didn’t start an opera podcast so much to talk about opera as to have a good juicy topic to start a podcast about. I wanted to practice, because I was also planning to start the World BEYOND War podcast for the antiwar organization I work for, and I figured I should have some experience creating a podcast before kicking that more serious one off. So “Lost Music” has always been my laboratory, my freeform space. It’s definitely also an extension of whatever Literary Kicks is, and it’s designed for anyone interested in literature, not just for opera fans. There’s a good chance I’ll do doing more general Litkicks podcasts, though I’m sticking with the opera thread for now.

One funny thing is that when I tell people I run an opera podcast they think I must have been obsessed with opera my whole life. Just like when I created Literary Kicks as a Beat Generation site in 1994, and people thought I had long experience with the Beats. I had just read Kerouac for the first time and barely knew anything about them at all, but I sure learned a lot about the Beats by doing Literary Kicks! I guess I like a communications medium that emphasizes spontaneity and freshness, and lets people learn while they create.

Episode two of season three of Lost Music: Exploring Literary Opera is about “Il Trovatore” by Verdi. In this episode, I gave myself the challenge of writing an explainer, because “Il Trovatore”” often leaves audiences confused, even as they thrill to the propulsive and gorgeous music.

Well, I like the challenge of explaining an opera’s impossible plot, and that’s what I do in this episode. Among many other things, I argue in this episode that people who go to see “Il Trovatore” often mistakenly prepare to see an elegant medieval romance, but what Verdi actually wrote was more like the 19th century equivalent of a horror movie. I also talk about other famously confusing operas like “Semiramide” and “Gotterdammerung” that are cleverly constructed with complex layers of nuance designed to keep audiences comfortable when the stories get out of control.

I also talk in this episode about Spain in the Italian imagination, 19th century European heavy metal, similarities between the character of Azucena and our more recent Livia Soprano in “The Sopranos”. And – most exciting for me of all, I talk about the Marx Brothers, who featured “Il Trovatore” as well as “Pagliacci” in their classic comedy “A Night at the Opera”.

Here’s the latest episode: please listen, and let me know what you think by posting a comment here or hitting me up on social media or (best of all) giving it a 5 star review it on a streaming platform!

The subtitle of this podcast is “Exploring Literary Opera”. As I plowed through months of research, reading several books and articles and watching at least 15 versions of this opera on YouTube, I sometimes saw myself working hours and hours on this from above and had to laugh at my obsessive need to understand every nuance of every character’s motivations during this opera. When I begin to understand the weird places Verdi was going with this opera, I guess I see an echo of every creative person who struggles to have their weird ideas understood.

Thanks for listening, and thanks for visiting my blog, which is 27 years old but does not plan to die in the 27-year-old curse.

The photo at the top of this page is Azucena and Manrico from the Marx Brothers “A Night at the Opera”. I called this blog post “Comprehending Trovatore” because it sounds like a Haruki Murakami novel.

One Response

  1. A most excelllent podcast from a wonderfully inquiring mind… thanks for the informative and entertaining look at an opera classic, Marc.

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What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!