Opera Scotland

Nabucco Nabucodonosor; Nebuchadnezzar

Music

Giuseppe Verdi (born Roncole, 8/10 October 1913; died Milan, 27 January 1901).

Libretto

Temistocle Solera

Source

Drama Nabucodonosor (1836) by Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue.

 

Premières

First Performance: Milan (Teatro alla Scala), 9 March 1842.

First Performance in UK: London (Her Majesty's Theatre), 3 March 1846.

First Performance in Scotland: 15 April 1952, maybe earlier.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

Nabucco was the third of Verdi's operas to reach the stage, and, unlike its predecessors, was an immediate and sensational success. Hardly a subtle piece, there are many opportunities for grand effects. it contains page after page of immediately attractive and memorable music, of which the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves is without doubt the most popular, for good reason.

In Britain, the opera itself has been less familiar. It had a slow start, for the simple reason that theatrical presentation of biblical subjects was unacceptable. Early British performances (including concert extracts in Edinburgh) were under the title Nino, with a much altered plot. It is only since World War II that it has become popular, firstly with Welsh National Opera from 1952. The Royal Opera, having ignored it for decades, finally put it on in 1972, since when it has appeared several times, and it has also been staged by Opera North. In Scotland neither Scottish Opera nor the Edinburgh Festival has touched it, though it has long been popular with amateur groups. Since the turn of the century, the Ellen Kent Opera International production team have toured it to Scotland several times.

 

Characters

Nabucco, King of Babylon (baritone)

Abigaille, a slave, believed to be his elder daughter (soprano)

Fenena, his true daughter (soprano)

Ismaele, nephew of the King of Jerusalem (tenor)

Zaccaria, High Priest of Jerusalem (bass)

High Priest of Baal at Babylon (bass)

Abdallo, an old officer in Nabucco's service (tenor)

Anna, sister of Zaccaria (soprano)

 

Plot Summary

The Babylonians, led by Nabucco, have defeated the people of Jerusalem in battle, and in the Temple of Solomon they sadly mourn their expected fate. Zaccaria begs them to trust in God, but the knowledge that Nabucco's arrival is imminent drives them to despair. Ismaele enters and greets Fenena, who has been a hostage in Jerusalem. They had fallen in love when he had been an envoy imprisoned by the Babylonians, and she had helped him escape. The ferocious Abigaille enters at the head of some Babylonian troops, and asks Ismaele, whom she also loves, to return with her to Babylon. As Nabucco himself arrives, Zaccaria threatens to kill Fenena. Ismaele stops him, to the fury of his countrymen, and Nabucco orders the sacking of the Temple.

Back in Babylon, Abigaille has been revealed to be not Nabucco's daughter, but the offspring of slaves. In Nabucco's absence on campaign, Fenena is therefore Regent. Abigaille has managed to purloin the document that proves her low birth, and the High Priest, opposed to Fenena's sympathetic attitude to the defeated Jews, helps Abigaille to stage a coup. This is foiled when Nabucco returns, but he proclaims himself to be a god, demands that Babylonians and Jews all worship him, is struck by a thunderbolt and driven mad. Abigaille is able to seize power after all.

At an audience in the Hanging Gardens, the High Priest gets Abigaille's agreement to the execution of the Jewish captives, starting with Fenena. Nabucco, still half-witted, enters and is left alone with his supposed daughter. She tricks him into signing the order for his real daghter's death. She then destroys the document that is the only evidence of her real status. Nabucco is appalled. By the banks of the Euphrates, the captive Jews sing of their lost homeland. Zaccaria encourages them by prophesying the fall of Babylon.

Nabucco wakes up to hear the procession going past outside to attend Fenena's execution. He is inspired to a belief in the Jewish god, and, on his knees, prays to Jehovah. His sanity returns and he summons his followers to effect a rescue. Fenena and the Jews await their fate. When Nabucco and his men enter the idol of Baal collapses. His followers and the Hebrews all join in praises of Jehovah. Abigaille enters, contrite and begging for Fenena's forgiveness. She has taken poison and dies.

The Cast

Abdallo
 an elderly officer in the King of Babylon's service
Abigaille
 a slave, supposed elder daughter of Nabucco
Anna
 Zaccaria's sister
Fenena
 daughter of Nebuchadnezzar
High Priest of Baal
 
Ismaele
 nephew of Zedekiah, King of Jerusalem
Nabucco
 Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon
Zaccaria
 High Priest of the Hebrews

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