Since the stage is completely surrounded by water, there is always the possibility that one of the hundreds of people involved in the production might fall in.
Of course they all have to know how to swim. I don't know if there is actually a swimming test, but in 2002 I was told that one of the singers had to take swimming lessons before she was allowed to set foot on the stage.
As a precaution, though, at least two trained and fully equipped divers are posted on the shore throughout each performance. Because I was sitting in the corner seat in the first row in the lower left hand corner one night, I was able to get these two pictures of one of the divers getting herself and her equipment into place for the evening.
Second photo: Diver in readiness.
Update August 7, 2013: Last night a performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute was interrupted for half an hour when a boat carrying the Queen of the Night, Monostatos and Sarastro overturned and they were all dumped into the water. The two divers on duty immediately swam to their rescue, which was very necessary because of the costumes they were wearing. As the Queen of the Night tweeted a few minutes later: “It was definitely one of the most terrifying moments of my life…. We are all glad it didn’t end worse!!…. Two rescue swimmers dragged me to the rescue boat- I couldn’t move my legs with the three skirts… my wet costume kept dragging me down. … Actually COULDN’T swim with three skirts, two layers of bodice, two mic units and a heavy horned helmet on!!”
After half an hour they all went on with the show.
(I wasn’t there but I know one of the singers, Alfred Reiter, who is an ensemble member at the Frankfurt Opera.)
Next: Troubadour Act 1 Scene 1
In the first scene of the opera, Count Luna's military commander Ferrando tries to keep his troops awake through the night by telling them about the awful things that happened here in the castle fifteen years earlier. A gypsy women was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake. Her daughter, Azucena, took revenge by stealing a baby and throwing it into the flames.
This is a dark and spooky piece of music, to set the tone for the rest of the opera. Ferrando keeps hesitating at dramatic points in the story, and the chorus comes in urging him to continue.
As I explained on my Bregenz intro page, I was not doing anything illegal by taking these photographs. All they said was no flash and no videos, and I complied with that. And I did not use any fancy equipment, just a small and unobtrusive Canon PowerShot A70 camera.
Next: Leonora and Ines
In the second scene Leonora tells Ines that she is in love with a mysterious troubadour who comes to serenade her at night. This turns out to be Manrico, a gypsy who is one of Count Luna's enemies in the civil war.
(In the photo: Tatjana Serjan as Leonora, Katharina Peetz as Ines.)
Count Luna is also in love with Leonora. At the end of Act 1 he and Manrico run off to fight a duel. Later we learn that Manrico won the fight and was about to kill Luna, when a mysterious inner voice told him not to. The two fight again in a battle, and Manrico is badly wounded.
Next: Act 2 – the gypsies
At the beginning the second act the 48 meter long fence rises out of the ground, to separate the castle/refinery from the "beach" in the foreground.
The two gypsy piers are extended from the grandstand across to the stage, and soon dozens of gypsies cross and gather on the beach. Flames come out of several of the oil drums -- an eerie nighttime scene that perfectly matches Verdi's music.
Next: The anvil chorus
At the beginning of the second act the gypsies sing their famous anvil chorus. In the Bregenz production they don't beat on their anvils but on the fence that keeps them out of the castle/refinery, the seat of wealth and power.
As in all the choral scenes at Bregenz, the people in the on-stage chorus are trained singers and are really singing Verdi's music, but their voices aren't being amplified. What we hear over the BOA (Bregenz Open Acoustics) sound system are the voices of the Moscow Chamber Chorus and the Bregenz Festival Chorus, who are singing simultaneously down in the indoor festival hall under the grandstand.
I took this photo on my second night, from my category V seat in the upper right-hand corner of the grandstand.
Next: Azucena’s story
After gazing into the flames of the campfire, Azucena starts telling her fellow gypsies how awful it was fifteen years before when her mother was burned at the stake. To revenge her mother, she grabbed for the baby she had stolen and threw it into the flames -- only to realize that she had grabbed the wrong one, and thrown her own baby into the fire.
Manrico is astounded to hear this. "Non son tuo figlio?" he asks. Am I not your son?
(In the photo: Marianne Cornetti as Azucena.)
Next: Azucena’s retraction
Azucena immediately takes it all back, says of course you're my son, I was only hallucinating. And goes on to tell, in a fantastic piece of music, how she found him near death on the battlefield and nursed him back to life.
(In the photo: Larissa Diadkova as Azucena.)
Just then Manrico learns that Leonora thinks he is dead and in despair is about to take vows as a nun. He immediately rallies his men and runs off to prevent this, despite Azucena's pleas to wait until his battle wounds are healed.
Next: Count Luna
In the second scene of the second act, Count Luna arrives (by boat, in this production) at the convent where he intends to abduct Leonora to prevent her from becoming a nun. His old friend and military commander Ferrando is with him.
This photo, like several others in this series, was extremely dark as it originally came out. I later did a gamma correction on it, using the free software program IrfanView.
Next: Luna’s aria at the convent
Count Luna sings of how he loves Leonora and how not even God will be able to snatch her from him -- Non può rapirti a me!.
After this the nuns file in to begin the ceremony, Leonora starts to take her vows, Luna interrupts and tries to abduct her. But then Manrico's men erupt onto the scene, some of them even rappelling down using ropes from the bridge at the top of the castle/refinery.
Ferrando advises Count Luna not to fight because they are completely outnumbered. So it is Manrico who takes Leonora away, even stealing Luna's boat to do so.
In this photo you can see a video screen near the top, just right of center. This is one of two screens that show live images of the conductor and the musicians (all wearing blue shirts or blouses) of the Vienna Symphonic Orchestra throughout the performance. This is especially nice in the many parts of this opera in which one of the orchestra musicians has a beautiful solo passage, so you can see them as they play.
Next: Act 3
In the first scene of Act 3 Azucena is captured by Count Luna's forces and brought as a prisoner to his castle.
In the second scene, shown here, the stage has suddenly turned blue to hint that this is a different castle now, the fortress where Manrico is under siege. Leonora is with him, and they want to get married in the castle chapel.
Next: Manrico and Leonora
Just as they are about to get married, Manrico learns that Azucena is a prisoner in Count Luna's castle. Only now does Leonora realize that the gypsy woman is Manrico's mother.
He again rallies his troops and storms off to save her, leaving Leonora behind. As he leaves he sings his famous and stirring stretta which most tenors try to finish off with a high C, if they can do it. It isn't actually in the score, but legend has it that one of the first Manricos got so carried away by the music that he inserted the high C by mistake, and Verdi allowed it to stay.
(In the photo: Zwetan Michailov as Manrico, Tatjana Serjan as Leonora.)
Next: Act 4
Both Manrico and Azucena are prisoners in Count Luna's castle. Leonora arrives outside the fence, determined to save Manrico's life even at the cost of her own.
In desperation, she tell Luna she will marry him if he sets Manrico free. He agrees, but Leonora secretly takes poison so she won't have to consummate the marriage.
Next: Azucena’s revenge
The poison takes hold too quickly. Leonora dies too soon. Luna realizes he has been betrayed and executes Manrico.
This is Azucena's moment. Egli era tuo fratello she tells him. He was your own brother.
Next: Fire at the end of the opera
The storyline of this opera has often been criticized as turgid and illogical, ever since Verdi first composed it in 1853. But I really like what the stage director Robert Carsen has to say about it in the Bregenz program book:
"It seems to me totally mistaken to consider the libretto of Il trovatore as bad. How could it possibly be bad since it inspired such extraordinary music from its composer?"
He goes on to say:
"Opera celebrates the irrationality of the emotions, their burning destructivness and searing power. The inner world of Il trovatore is not logical, not rational. It is violent, destructive, all consuming, anarchic, nightmarish."
He points out that there are over one hundred references to fire in the libretto, which is why he decided to use so much fire on the stage.
Next: Taking their bows
Here the gypsies -- supernumeraries and members of the stage chorus -- are taking their bows after the performance.
All told about 1600 people work for the Bregenz Festival during the summer -- but only 60 the rest of the year.
Next: The Audience