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Nabucco, Opera by G. Verdi

Nabucco, Opera by G. Verdi

Giuseppe Verdi found his musical salvation with Nabucco. When he took up the commission in 1841, he was grieving the losses of loved ones and his most recent opera had been booed off stage. Seemingly as thunderstruck as his main character, Verdi somehow summoned his creative powers, and the result was a triumphant success. Nabucco, in all its musical and epic glory, is now coming to Prague to proclaim the Maestro’s operatic genius yet again.

Even though Verdi was understandably depressed due to his personal and professional woes, La Scala manager Bartolomeo Merelli insisted that he compose a biblical opera. Nabucco’s librettist Temistocle Solera had found inspiration in the Books of Jeremiah and Daniel as well as in the 1836 play Nabuchodonosor by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornu, which laid down the opera’s main plotline. Touched by the transformative, optimistic story, Verdi accepted.

Nabucco presents the conquest of Israel by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (or Nabucco, as he appears here). As Babylon’s armies take over Jerusalem, the opera’s love triangle reveals itself inside King Solomon’s Temple. Nabucco’s own daughter, Fenena, and the Israelite Ismaele are in love; her manipulative half-sister Abigaille suffers from unrequited love for Ismaele and concocts a series of intrigues to usurp the throne.

After Abigaille’s wicked plan succeeds, Nabucco lands in jail, while Fenena, Ismaele, and the captured people of Israel face execution. The imprisoned Babylonian king undergoes a fantastic transformation and his heart opens up to the god of Israel. With his newfound faith, Nabucco manages to foil Abigaille’s murderous intentions and frees the Israelites for an arousing happy end.

Nabucco marks the birth of Giuseppe Verdi, the master of opera, as we know him. The premiere at Milan’s La Scala on 9 March 1842 was a critical and popular triumph. While the story was in tune with the epoch, it was Verdi’s fantastic and inspiring music that turned Nabucco into a truly timeless work of operatic art. The Maestro injected his characters with raw emotion and passion that grab the audience and refuse to let go.

Nabucco’s titular character alternates between belligerent overconfidence, parental love, mad desperation and quiet piety, while the role of Abigaille pushes every soprano to the brink of her vocal and dramatic abilities. Still, nothing overshadows ‘Va, pensiero’, the chorus of the enslaved Hebrews, which would become Verdi’s calling card.

image State Opera Prague / Ondřej Kocourek