Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore is a rôle that stayed with Maria Callas for a long time. We know that she sang an aria or arias from the opera as early as 1940 in Athens. She portrayed Leonora on stage some twenty times between 1950 and 1955, at Mexico City, Naples, La Scala, Rome, Covent Garden, and Chicago. (Her Manrico in Chicago was the great Jussi Björling, who reportedly pronounced her Leonora “perfection.”)
Leonora’s Act IV scena was in her recital repertoire throughout the 1950s, and she recorded music from Il trovatore as late as 1965. She also taught arias by Leonora and Azucena during her Juilliard master classes.
The musical selection today is substantial: Leonora’s twenty-minute scena from Act IV of Il trovatore, from Callas’s 1956 EMI recording under Herbert von Karajan, with Giuseppe di Stefano as Manrico. Callas and Karajan supposedly did not have an easy relationship—and it’s no stretch to imagine the meeting of those two egos as a kind of gigantomachia. Still, Callas did some of her finest work under Karajan’s baton, in the EMI Butterfly, the Berlin Lucia, and this Trovatore.
Both Verdi and Callas are near the top of their form in this dark and grandiose music, so there is little that one can say. Just listen and give thanks.