Nabucco

Like every other loving father before him, the formidable Nabucco is rendered powerless in the presence of his own daughter. Heaven’s favor comes at an exalted price for the King of Babylon and the namesake of Verdi’s masterwork. Nabucco is based on the Book of Daniel.

Synopsis

The Assyrians led by Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco), are attacking the holy city. The terrified Hebrews pray for help before the Temple of Solomon. Zaccaria, their high priest, tells them to have hope because they have captured Fenena, Nabucco’s daughter. Ismaele, the nephew of the king of Jerusalem, announces that Nabucco is upon them. Zaccaria places Fenena under Ishmael’s guard, and the others leave to face the charging invaders.

Nabucco premiered on March 9, 1842, at La Scala. The libretto is by Temistocle Solera, after the play Nabucodonosor (1836) by Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue.

ACT I

Jerusalem
The Assyrians led by Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco), are attacking the holy city.  The terrified Hebrews pray for help before the Temple of Solomon.  Zaccaria, their high priest, tells them to have hope because they have captured Fenena, Nabucco’s daughter.  Ismaele, the nephew of the king of Jerusalem, announces that Nabucco is upon them.  Zaccaria places Fenena under Ishmael’s guard, and the others leave to face the charging invaders.

At one time Ismaele had been the Hebrew ambassador to the Assyrian capital, Babylon.  He fell in love with Fenena, and she with him.  At that time, he was thrown into prison and it was she who set him free.  Now he proposes to do the same.  Ismaele’s attempt to free Fenena is foiled when Abigaille, who is known as the older daughter of Nabucco, leads a band of soldiers into Jerusalem.  She too is in love with Ismaele, but he has spurned her for Fenena.  The Hebrews, who are losing the battle, seek refuge before their temple.  The conquering Nabucco arrives with his troops and is confronted by the enraged Zaccaria who threatens to kill Fenena.  Zaccaria is about to kill her when Ismaele releases her, bringing down the condemnation of the Hebrews on his head, and leaving Nabucco free to complete his victory by destroying the Temple of Solomon.

ACT II

Cruelty
The scene shifts to Babylon where the Hebrews have been taken captive.  Nabucco has gone to further conquests, leaving Fenena as regent.  Abigaille resents this, believing that she should be regent.  She discovers a secret parchment that states her true background – she is not the daughter of the king, but the child of slaves who he has raised as his own.  She plans revenge on Fenena, Ismaele and Nabucco, using the High Priest of Baal as her accomplice.  The High Priest tells her that Fenena is converting to Judaism, and that he has spread the rumor that Nabucco has been killed in battle.  The time is right for her to seize the throne.

In another part of the palace grounds, Zaccaria prepares for Fenena’s conversion ceremony.  Ismaele asks forgiveness of the Levites, who continue to revile him as a traitor.  Anna, sister of Zaccaria, interrupts to tell them that Ismaele had saved a Hebrew, and to prove this, Zaccaria brings forth Fenena.  Abdallo, the faithful servant to Nabucco, enters to warn Fenena of Abigaille’s treachery.  Before she can act, the High Priest of Baal enters and declares Abigaille queen.  As the triumphant Abigaille moves to seize the royal scepter from Fenena, Nabucco enters. He takes the scepter and dares Abigaille to take it from him.  Declaring that Baal has turned his people into traitors, and that with the defeat of the Hebrews he has proven their god to be false, Nabucco declares that he is no longer merely king, but that he is god.  At this pronouncement, he is struck with madness. Abigaille seizes the scepter and declares that she will keep the glory of the people of Baal.

ACT III

The Prophesy
In the throne room, the High Priest of Baal asks Abigaille to sentence the Hebrews to death, including Fenena.  Nabucco enters.  In his madness, he is searching for his throne room.  Abigaille tricks Nabucco into affixing his seal to the death warrant for the Hebrews.  Too late, he realizes that he has also signed the death of his beloved Fenena, and he begs Abigaille for her life.  When she refuses, he calls her ‘slave’ and tries to remember where the proof of her low birth is.  Abigaille takes the document from her bosom and tears it up.  Now the proof of her birth is destroyed.  The world believes she is his daughter, and she has won.

On the banks of the Euphrates, the Hebrews sing of their lost homeland. Zaccaria inspires them with a vision of the future destruction of Babylon.

ACT IV

The Broken Idol
Abigaille has sent Nabucco to prison.  There he hears the sound of the funeral procession for the Hebrews.  He believes it is military music and that he is once again at the head of his troops.  The crowd shouts for Fenena and Nabucco, and in his madness he is pleased that his people adore her.  When he sees that she is bound in chains and that the crowd is calling for her death, he implores the God of the Hebrews for forgiveness.  His mind clears and his strength is restored.  With the help of Abdallo, he escapes prison, and they leave to rescue Fenena.

Abigaille and the Assyrians watch the funeral procession of the Hebrews.  Fenena sings of the joys of martyrdom.  Nabucco arrives with a few loyal troops.  He orders them to tear down the statue of Baal.  Abigaille, realizing she has lost, takes poison.  She dies repentant, and asking for forgiveness.  Nabucco frees the Hebrews and joins them in giving thanks to the one true God.

About the Composer

Giuseppe Verdi

(1813-1901)

The son of illiterate peasants who ran a tavern in Le Roncole, a small village some three miles from Busseto in the Duchy of Parma, Giuseppe Verdi began his education under tutelage of local priests who schooled the boy in literature, mathematics, and, of course, religion.  Indeed, the young man aspired to follow the footsteps of his teachers and to be ordained when of age, and his experiences as church organist formed much of his early adolescence.  It is important to remember this early schooling, for even though his musical talents would carry him far from his humble beginnings, Verdi never lost his respect for the Catholic Church of his childhood.  Indeed, one of his early compositions, now lost, was a setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah.

In the fall of 1840, the 26-year old composer’s comic opera, Un giorno di Regno received catcalls, jeering and boos from the discerning audiences of Milan’s La Scala theater.  Less than a year earlier, his first opera Oberto received respectful applause in its charity performance at La Scala, and, as such, Verdi was offered a contract by La Scala to write a new opera for the upcoming season.  Before the performance of Oberto, Verdi and his young wife lost their two infant children.  Shortly after Oberto, his wife died of encephalitis.

His third opera, Nabucco was received with wild enthusiasm, and was performed an unprecedented 57 times at La Scala that season alone. With Nabucco, the young man from the provinces began his life journey to become the greatest of all composers of Italian opera.  Beginning with his “Middle Period” operas, which began in 1851 with Rigoletto and include La traviata, Il trovatore and I vespri siciliani, the round of successes was unremitting.  His other operas include Ernani (1844), Macbeth (1847), Luisa Miller (1849), Simon Boccanegra(1857), Un ballo in maschera (1859), La forza del destino (1862), Don Carlos (1867), Aïda(1871), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893).

By the time Verdi wrote his last operas, he had become a national treasure. Upon his death in 1901, there were scenes of national mourning for a man whose actions and music had become a model to all of Italy.  At his funeral the 28,000 people who lined the streets broke out softly and spontaneously into the great chorus of the Hebrew slaves “Va, pensiero” from Nabucco.

Production

JAMES MEENA

CONDUCTOR

BERNARD UZAN

DIRECTOR

MICHAEL BAUMGARTEN & BERNARD UZAN

PRODUCTION DESIGN

MICHAEL BAUMGARTEN

LIGHTING DESIGNER

MARTHA RUSKAI

WIG & MAKE-UP DESIGN

MALABAR

COSTUME DESIGN

EMILY URBANEK

DIRECTOR OF MUSICAL PREPARATION

JOSH BARBOUR

REPETITEUR

MICHAEL SPERBER

PRODUCTION STAGE MANAGER

KERRY CONCANNON

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

JULIE FISCHESSER

ASSISTANT STAGE MANAGER

WILBERT FERGUSON

TECHNICAL DIRECTOR

JAY GRAVES

PROP MASTER / ASSISTANT TECHNICAL DIRECTOR

HANK BRENNAN

MASTER ELECTRICIAN

HALLIE GRAY

ASSISTANT ELECTRICIAN

BETSY BLACKMORE

COSTUMER

VICKI PERRAS

HEAD OF WARDROBE

BRITTANY RAPPISE

WIG AND MAKEUP ARTIST

ELYSE MESSICK

WIG AND MAKEUP ARTIST