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Nabucco or Nabucodonosor, English Nebuchadnezzar is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera, based on the biblical story and the play by Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornu. Its first performance took place on March 9, 1842 at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan under the original name.
The definitive name for the opera and the protagonist were attributed at a performance the San Giacomo Theatre of Corfu, in September, 1844. The best-known number from this opera is Hebrews' Chorus, Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate - Fly, thought, on golden wings.
The opera, Verdi's third, is considered to be the one that permanently established his reputation as a composer. Verdi commented that, with this opera, my artistic career may be said to have begun. He was true in his assumption as Nabucco was an instant success, dominating Donizetti and Pacini operas playing nearby. While the public went mad with enthusiasm, the critics tempered their approval of the opera. Nabucco follows the plight of the Jews as they are assaulted and subsequently exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco.
Amusingly, one critic who found Nabucco revolting was Otto Nicolai, the composer to whom the libretto was offered first. A thoroughly Prussian-bred man, Nicolai felt at odds with emotional Italian opera while he lived near Milan. After refusing to accept the libretto proposal from Merelli, Nicolai began work on another offer called Il Proscritto. Its disastrous premiere in March 1841 forced Nicolai to cancel his contract with Merelli and flee to Vienna. From there he learned of Nabucco's success and was enraged. Verdi's operas are really horrible, he wrote. He scores like a fool technically he is not even professional and he must have the heart of a donkey and in my view he is a pitiful, despicable composer ?. Additionally, he described Nabucco as nothing but rage, invective, bloodshed and murder.
Nicolai's opinions were in the minority, however, and he has today become comparatively obscure. Nabucco secured Verdi's success until his retirement from theatre, sixteen operas later. Music historians have long perpetuated a powerful myth about the famous Va, pensiero chorus sung in the third act by the Hebrew slaves. Scholars have long believed the audience, responding with nationalistic fervor to the slave's powerful hymn of longing for their homeland, demanded an encore of the piece. As encores were expressly forbidden by the government at the time, such a gesture would have been extremely significant. However, recent scholarship puts this and the corresponding myth of Va, pensiero as the national anthem of the Risorgimento, to rest. Although the audience did indeed demand an encore, it was not for Va, pensiero but rather for the hymn Immenso Jehova, sung by the Hebrew slaves to thank God for saving his people. In light of these new revelations, Verdi's position as the musical figurehead of the Risorgimento has been correspondingly downplayed. Today, Va, pensiero is regularly given an encore when performed; interestingly, it is the only encore Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine has ever allowed.
The opera is based on the era of 587 BC depicting the Holy land of Jerusalem and Babylon 'Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I shall deliver this city into the hand of the King of Babylon, and he will burn it with fire' (Jeremiah 21:10)The Act I is based on Jerusalem, Interior of the Temple of Jerusalem. The Jews are being defeated and Nabucco is poised to enter Jerusalem. The High Priest Zaccaria tells the people not to despair but to trust in God (D'Egitto l? su i lidi). The presence of a hostage, Fenena, younger daughter of Nabucco, may yet secure peace (Come notte a sol fulgente). Zaccaria entrusts Fenena to Ismaele, nephew of the King of Jerusalem and a former envoy to Babylon. Although Fenena and Ismaele love each other, when they are left alone, Ismaele urges her to escape rather than risk her life. Nabucco's elder daughter, Abigaille, storms into the temple with soldiers in disguise. She, too, loves Ismaele. Discovering the lovers, she threatens Ismaele: if he does not give up Fenena, Abigail will accuse her of treason. The King himself enters (Viva Nabucco). Zaccaria defies him, threatening to kill Fenena with a dagger. Ismaele intervenes to save her. Nabucco responds by ordering the destruction of the temple, and the Jews curse Ismaele as a traitor.In Act II, Scene 1, The Palace in Babylon is set in the background.'Behold, the whirlwind of the Lord goeth forth, it shall fall upon the head of the wicked' (Jeremiah 30:23)
Nabucco is away at the wars and has appointed Fenena as regent. Abigaille has discovered a document that proves she is not Nabucco's real daughter, but a slave (Anch'io dischiuso un giorno). The High Priest of Baal, accompanied by the Magi, comes to tell Abigaille that Fenena has released the Jewish captives. Their response is to launch a coup to put Abigaille on the throne, while spreading a rumour that Nabucco has died in battle, and they leave Abigaille to sing the cabaletta (Salgo gi? del trono aurato).In Scene 2, A hall in the Palace in Babylon, accompanied by a cello sextet, Zacharia awaits Fenena (Tu sul labbro). She converts to the Jewish religion, and Ismaele is reconciled to the Jews. However it is announced that the King is dead and Abigaille and the High Priest of Baal demand the crown from Fenena. Unexpectedly, Nabucco himself enters, scorning both sides, both Baal and the Hebrew god that he has defeated. He declares himself God. When Zaccaria objects, Nabucco orders the Jews to be put to death. Fenena says that she will share their fate. Repeating that he is now god (Non son piu re, son dio), Nabucco is promptly hit by a thunderbolt and loses his senses. The crown falls and is picked up by Abigaille.
In Act III, Scene 1, The Hanging Gardens of Babylon are depicted thus projecting a prophecy.'Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein'. (Jeremiah 50:39)The High Priest of Baal presents Abigaille with the death decree for the Jews and Fenena. Nabucco enters looking like a mad man, claiming his throne. Abigaille persuades him to seal the decree, but he asks that Fenena be saved. He tells Abigaille that she is not his true daughter but a slave. Abigaille mocks him, destroying the document with the evidence of her true origins. Understanding that he is now a prisoner, he pleads for Fenena's life. Abigaille exults.In Scene 2, along the banks of the River Euphrates, the Jews long for their homeland (Va pensiero, sull'ali dorate). Zaccaria once again exhorts them to have faith: God will destroy Babylon.
Act IV, Scene 1 displays the Palace in Babylon elaboratively describing The Shattered Idol.'Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces.' (Jeremiah 50:2)Nabucco awakens, his strength and his reason fully regained. He sees Fenena in chains being taken to her death. Asking forgiveness of the God of the Jews, he promises to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, and follow the true faith (Dio di Giuda). Joined by loyal soldiers, he resolves to punish the traitors and rescue Fenena (O prodi miei, seguitemi).
Scene 2, depicting the Hanging Gardens of Babylon when the Jews and Fenena (O dischius'e il firmamento) prepare for death on the sacrificial altar of Baal, Nabucco rushes in, sword in hand. At his word the Idol of Baal shatters into pieces. Nabucco tells the Jews they are free. A new Temple will be raised to their God. Abigaille enters. She has poisoned herself. She expresses her remorse, asks the forgiveness of Fenena and dies. Zaccaria acclaims Nabucco as the servant of God and the King of Kings.
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