25 November 1878
(Music) Giuseppe Verdi
(Libretto) Salvadore Cammarano
Programme for the first weeks of Leeds Grand Theatre. The Carl Rosa company arrived in November with 'Il Trovatore', 'Lily of Kilarney', 'Maritana', 'Merry Wives of Windsor', 'The Huguenots' and 'Bohemian Girl' (source: Leeds Intelligencer)
Leeds Grand Theatre
As Leeds grew as a regional economic and cultural powerhouse in the 19th century, calls grew for the city to have a theatre befitting of its status. When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Leeds in 1858, it was reported that the Prince said that “'Leeds seemed in need of a good theatre, and that nothing was more calculated to promote the culture and raise the tone of the people”.
Chaired by Sir Andrew Fairbairn, plans were developed to create a major theatre for the city of Leeds, one to rival the more established cultural destinations such as Manchester and Edinburgh. Over a 13 month build, costing between £60 and £70,000, Leeds Grand Theatre opened in November 1878.
Leeds Grand Theatre in the late 19th century
First opera performance at Leeds Grand Theatre
Leeds Grand Theatre was immediately established as the theatre that the city deserved.
A suitably grand and modern venue, it became the primary touring venue for plays, pantomime, and opera visiting Leeds from 1878 onwards.
There were still other significant theatres in city which hosted visiting companies and artists, however. These included the Princess Theatre and the Theatre Royal; however the significant civic weight of support (and investment) in Leeds Grand Theatre was always going to make it the preferred destination of choice for producers and audiences.
Leeds Grand Theatre is still Leeds' most popular receiving theatres, playing host to the tours of major theatre and musical companies, and comedy acts, and it's the home of Opera North.
The initial share offering for Leeds Grand Theatre (source: West Yorkshire Archive Service)
The opera premiered in Rome in January 1853, just two months before the premiere of another of Verdi's greatest hits, La Traviata.
Trovatore concerns a love triangle between Count di Luna, Leonora, and Manrico, with a typically dramatic and deadly conclusions.
Despite being recognised as one of the most challenging operas to produce - primarily due to the demands of all four leading roles - Trovatore was one of the most performed opera in Leeds during the 19th century.
The earliest performance we have on record was at the Princess' Thetare in 1858, with the English Opera Company, Moody Manners Company, the Italian Grand Opera, Carl Rosa Opera, the Cavelliere F. Castellano Grand Opera Company, the Harrison Frewin Company, Sadler's Wells Opera, and Opera North all performing the work in the coming decades!
Il Trovatore featuring in Opera North's 1983/84 season
There are many many Il Trovatore recordings to choose from! Here is an English language recording, conducted by David Parry.
Leeds Corn Exchange, Leeds Libraries, Leeds Museums, University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Archive Service
The Original Chinese Conjuror (Northern Opera Group, August 2018)
credit: Pelly & Me Photography