Nabucco (Italian pronunciation: [naˈbukko]; short for
Nabucodonosor [naˌbukoˈdɔːnozor]~[naˌbukodonoˈzɔr], English
Nebuchadnezzar) is an Italian-language opera in four acts composed in
Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera.
The libretto is based on biblical books of Jeremiah and Daniel and the
1836 play by
Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornu, although
Antonio Cortese's ballet adaptation of the play (with its necessary
simplifications), given at
La Scala in 1836, was a more important
source for Solera than the play itself. Under its original name of
Nabucodonosor, the opera was first performed at
La Scala in Milan on 9
Nabucco is the opera which is considered to have permanently
established Verdi's reputation as a composer. He commented that "this
is the opera with which my artistic career really begins. And though I
had many difficulties to fight against, it is certain that
born under a lucky star".
It follows the plight of the
Jews as they are assaulted, conquered and
subsequently exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco
(in English, Nebuchadnezzar II). The historical events are used as
background for a romantic and political plot. The best-known number
from the opera is the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves", "Va, pensiero,
sull'ali dorate" / "Fly, thought, on golden wings", a chorus which is
regularly given an encore in many opera houses when performed today.
1 Composition history
2 Performance history
2.1 19th century
2.2 20th century and beyond
4.1 Act 1: Jerusalem
4.2 Act 2: The Impious One
4.3 Act 3: The Prophecy
4.4 Act 4: The Broken Idol
6 Critical reaction
10 External links
Giuseppe Verdi, lithograph by Roberto Focosi, c. 1840
Librettist Temistocle Solera
The success of Verdi's first opera, Oberto, resulted in Bartolomeo
Merelli, La Scala's impresario, offering Verdi a contract for three
more works. After the failure of his second opera Un giorno di regno
(completed in 1840 towards the end of a brutal 2-year period during
which both of his infant children and then his 26-year-old wife died),
Verdi vowed never to compose again.
In "An Autobiographical Sketch", written in 1879, Verdi tells the
story of how he came to be twice persuaded by Merelli to change his
mind and to write the opera. The distance of 38 years from the
event may have led to a somewhat romanticized view; or, as Verdi
Julian Budden puts it: "he was concerned to weave a protective
legend about himself [since] it was all part of his fierce
independence of spirit." However, in Volere è potere (it)
("Where there's a will ...") – written ten years closer to
the event – the zoologist
Michele Lessona provides a different
account of the events, as allegedly recounted by Verdi himself.
After a chance meeting with Merelli close to La Scala, the impresario
gave him a copy of Temistocle Solera's libretto which had been
rejected by the composer Otto Nicolai. Verdi describes how he took
it home, and threw "it on the table with an almost violent
gesture. ... In falling, it had opened of itself; without my
realising it, my eyes clung to the open page and to one special line:
'Va pensiero, sull' ali dorate'."
While it has been noted that "Verdi read it enthusiastically" (and
certainly he states that, while he attempted to sleep, he was kept
awake and read and re-read the libretto three times), others have
stated that he read the libretto very reluctantly or, as recounted
by Lessona, that he "threw the libretto in a corner without looking at
it anymore, and for the next five months he carried on with his
reading of bad novels ... [when] towards the end of May he found
himself with that blessed play in his hands: he read the last scene
over again, the one with the death of Abigaille (which was later cut),
seated himself almost mechanically at the piano ... and set the
scene to music."
Nevertheless, Verdi still refused to compose the music, taking the
manuscript back to the impresario the next day. But Merelli would
accept no refusal and he immediately stuffed the papers back into
Verdi's pocket and "not only threw me out of his office, but slammed
the door in my face and locked himself in". Verdi claims that
gradually he worked on the music: "This verse today, tomorrow that,
here a note, there a whole phrase, and little by little the opera was
written" so that by the autumn of 1841 it was complete. At the very
least, both Verdi's and Lessona's versions end with a complete score.
The opening performances, limited to only eight because the season was
coming to an end, were "a colossal success." But, when the new
season opened on 13 August 1842, about an additional 60 performances
had been added by the end of that year.
Numerous Italian and foreign theatres put on this opera in the years
immediately following, including
La Fenice in Venice in December 1842.
In 1843 Donizetti conducted it in Vienna, and other stagings took
place that year in Lisbon and Cagliari. But the definitive name of
Nabucco for the opera (and its protagonist) was first used at a
performance at the San Giacomo Theatre of
Corfu in September, 1844.
Nonetheless, a more plausible alternative for the establishment of
this abbreviated form claims that it was the result of a revival of
the opera in
Teatro del Giglio
Teatro del Giglio of Lucca.
The opera was first given in London at
Her Majesty's Theatre
Her Majesty's Theatre on 3
March 1846 under the name of Nino, since the depiction of biblical
characters on stage "was not considered proper". In the US it
appeared at the Astor
Opera House in New York on 4 April 1848.
20th century and beyond
Nabucco is frequently heard around the world today. It has been on the
Metropolitan Opera's roster since it was first presented there during
the 1960/61 season.
Nabucco is also regularly performed at the Arena di Verona. Among
the performances preserved on DVD are those at the Arena di Verona
(1981 and 2007);
La Scala (1987),
Opera Australia (1996), Vienna State
Opera (2001), Metropolitan
Opera (2002), Genoa's Teatro Carlo Felice
(2004), Teatro Municipale di
Piacenza (2004), and Austria's St.
Opera Festival (2007).
Many other companies have also performed it, including San Francisco
Opera in 1982, Sarasota
Opera in 1995, London's Royal
Opera House in
Opera of Chicago in 1997 and 2016, the New National
Theatre Tokyo in 1998,
Teatro Colón in 2000, Baltimore
Opera in 2006,
Teatro Regio di Parma
Teatro Regio di Parma in 2008 as part of their on-going
Nabucco was presented by the Michigan Opera
Theatre and the San Diego
Opera as part of their 2009–2010 seasons.
Opera celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010 with Nabucco
at Masada. It was performed at the Royal
Opera House, Covent Garden in
1972 with Colin Davis and March 2013 in a new co-production with
La Scala, directed by Daniele Abbado (it), which was relayed
to cinemas and subsequently released on DVD. Seattle
its first-ever staging of
Nabucco in August 2015.
Soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, the first Abigaille, c. 1840
Giorgio Ronconi who sang the title role
9 March 1842
(Conductor: Eugenio Cavallini)
Nabucco, King of Babylon
Abigaille, supposedly his elder daughter
Fenena, his daughter
Ismaele, nephew of the King of Jerusalem
Zaccaria, high priest of the Jews
Anna, Zaccaria's sister
Abdallo, Babylonian soldier
High priest of Bel
Time: 587 BC
Jerusalem and Babylon
Act 1: Jerusalem
In act 1
'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
Interior of the Temple of Solomon
The Israelites pray as the Babylonian army advances on their city
("Gli arredi festivi giù cadano infranti" / "Throw down and destroy
all festive decorations"). The High Priest Zaccaria tells the people
not to despair but to trust in God ("D'Egitto là su i lidi" / "On the
shores of Egypt He saved the life of Moses"). The presence of a
hostage, Fenena, younger daughter of Nabucco, King of Babylon, may yet
secure peace ("Come notte a sol fulgente" / "Like darkness before the
sun"). Zaccaria entrusts Fenena to Ismaele, nephew of the King of
Jerusalem and a former envoy to Babylon. Left alone, Fenena and
Ismaele recall how they fell in love when Ismaele was held prisoner by
the Babylonians, and how Fenena helped him to escape to Israel.
Nabucco's supposed elder daughter, Abigaille, enters the temple with
Babylonian soldiers in disguise. She, too, loves Ismaele. Discovering
the lovers, she threatens Ismaele: if he does not give up Fenena,
Abigaille will accuse her of treason. If Ismaele returns Abigaille's
love, however, Abigaille will petition
Nabucco on the Israelites'
behalf. Ismaele tells Abigaille that he cannot love her and she vows
Nabucco enters with his warriors ("Viva Nabucco" / "Long live
Nabucco"). Zaccaria defies him, threatening to kill Fenena if Nabucco
attacks the temple. Ismaele intervenes to save Fenena, which removes
any impediment from
Nabucco destroying the temple. He orders this,
while Zaccaria and the Israelites curse Ismaele as a traitor.
Act 2: The Impious One
'Behold, the whirlwind of the Lord goeth forth, it shall fall upon the
head of the wicked' (Jeremiah 30:23)
Scene 1: Royal apartments in Babylon
Nabucco has appointed Fenena regent and guardian of the Israelite
prisoners, while he continues the battle against the Israelites.
Abigaille has discovered a document that proves she is not Nabucco's
real daughter, but the daughter of slaves. She reflects bitterly on
Nabucco's refusal to allow her to play a role in the war with the
Israelites and recalls past happiness ("Anch'io dischiuso un giorno" /
"I too once opened my heart to happiness"). The High Priest of Bel
informs Abigaille that Fenena has released the Israelite captives. He
plans for Abigaille to become ruler of Babylon, and with this
intention has spread the rumour that
Nabucco has died in battle.
Abigaille determines to seize the throne ("Salgo già del trono
aurato" / "I already ascend the [bloodstained] seat of the golden
Scene 2: A room in the palace
Zaccaria reads over the Tablets of Law ("Vieni, o Levita" / "Come, oh
Levite! [Bring me the tables of the law]"), then goes to summon
Fenena. A group of Levites accuse Ismaele of treachery. Zaccaria
returns with Fenena and his sister Anna. Anna tells the Levites that
Fenena has converted to Judaism, and urges them to forgive Ismaele.
Abdallo, a soldier, announces the death of
Nabucco and warns of the
rebellion instigated by Abigaille. Abigaille enters with the High
Priest of Bel and demands the crown from Fenena. Unexpectedly, Nabucco
himself enters; pushing through the crowd, he seizes the crown and
declares himself not only king of the Babylonians but also their god.
The high priest Zaccaria curses him and warns of divine vengeance; an
Nabucco in turn orders the death of the Israelites. Fenena
reveals to him that she has embraced the Jewish religion and will
share the Israelites' fate.
Nabucco is furious and repeats his
conviction that he is now divine ("Non son più re, son dio" / "I am
no longer King! I am God!"). There is a crash of thunder and Nabucco
promptly loses his senses. The crown falls from his head and is picked
up by Abigaille, who pronounces herself ruler of the Babylonians.
Act 3: The Prophecy
'Therefore the wild beasts of the desert with the wild beasts of the
islands shall dwell there, and the owls shall dwell therein'.
Scene 1: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Abigaille is now Queen of Babylon. The High Priest of Bel presents her
with the death warrant for the Israelites, as well as for Fenena.
Nabucco, still insane, tries to reclaim the throne without success.
Though his consent to the death warrant is no longer necessary,
Abigaille tricks him into signing it. When
Nabucco learns that he has
consigned his (true) daughter to death, he is overcome with grief and
anger. He tells Abigaille that he is not in fact her father and
searches for the document evidencing her true origins as a slave.
Abigaille mocks him, produces the document and tears it up. Realizing
Nabucco pleads for Fenena's life ("Oh di qual onta
aggravasi questo mio crin canuto" / "Oh, what shame must my old head
suffer"). Abigaille is unmoved and orders
Nabucco to leave her.
Scene 2: The banks of the River Euphrates
The Israelites long for their homeland ("Va, pensiero, sull'ali
dorate" / "Fly, thought, on golden wings; [Fly and settle on the
slopes and hills]"). The high priest Zaccaria once again exhorts them
to have faith: God will destroy Babylon. The Israelites are inspired
by his words.
Act 4: The Broken Idol
'Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken pieces; her idols are
confounded, her images are broken in pieces.' (Jeremiah 50:2)
Scene 1: The royal apartments, Babylon
Nabucco awakens, still confused and raving. He sees Fenena in chains
being taken to her death. In despair, he prays to the God of the
Hebrews. He asks for forgiveness, and promises to rebuild the temple
Jerusalem and convert to
Judaism if his prayers are answered ("Dio
di Giuda" / "God of Judah! [The altar, your sacred Temple, shall rise
again]"). Miraculously, his strength and reason are immediately
restored. Abdallo and loyal soldiers enter to release him. Nabucco
resolves to rescue Fenena and the Israelites as well as to punish the
Scene 2: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Fenena and the Israelite prisoners are led in to be sacrificed ("Va!
La palma del martirio" / "Go, win the palm of martyrdom"). Fenena
serenely prepares for death.
Nabucco rushes in with Abdallo and other
soldiers. He declares that he will rebuild the Temple of
worship the God of the Israelites, ordering the destruction of the
idol of Bel. At his word, the idol falls to the ground of its own
accord and shatters into pieces.
Nabucco tells the Israelites that
they are now free and all join in praise of Jehovah. Abigaille enters,
supported by soldiers. She has poisoned herself. She begs forgiveness
of Fenena, prays for God's mercy and dies. Zaccaria proclaims Nabucco
the servant of God and king of kings.
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Eberswalde by the Silesian Opera, August 2004
Nebuchadnezzar II (c. 634–562 BC) took
597 BC, but the madness plot of the opera differs from both
archeological and biblical records of him. In the Book of Daniel, his
madness lasts for seven years before his conversion to Judaism. But in
the opera it only lasts for the time between the order to kill the
Fenena and the Jews, and it being carried out. The biblical story of
seven year madness followed by conversion bears more similarity to the
Dead Sea Scrolls' story of
Nabonidus (556–539 BC), father of
Belshazzar in the Cylinders of Nabonidus, than to the historical
Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon, five kings
later than Nebuchadnezzar, and
Belshazzar was a temporary regent
during Nabonidus' reign. Historical and biblical records agree that
Jews were freed and their temple was rebuilt not by the
Babylonians but by
Cyrus the Great
Cyrus the Great following his conquest of Babylon
in 539 BC. The opera's
Nabucco character is thus a composite of
historical and biblical Nebuchadnezzar II,
Nabonidus and Cyrus.
Babylonians addressed their own god as "Bel" (Italian: Belo), but the
proper name of the deity is Marduk, who assumed the title of "lord"
after his exaltation. The title "Bel" was in fact used also in
connection with Nergal.
Anachronisms in the opera include the use and tearing of paper
documents. In this period such documents would probably have been
written on clay tablets in cuneiform.
The opera was an instant success, dominating Donizetti's and Giovanni
Pacini's operas playing nearby. While the public went mad with
enthusiasm, the critics tempered their approval of the opera.
One critic who found
Nabucco revolting was Otto Nicolai, the composer
to whom the libretto was first offered. A Prussian, 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
return to Vienna. From there he learned of the success of
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 ...
Nabucco is nothing but "rage, invective,
bloodshed and murder.""
However, Nicolai's opinions were in the minority and, today, he has
become comparatively obscure.
Nabucco secured Verdi's success until
his retirement from the theatre, twenty-nine operas (including some
revised and updated versions) 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 slaves' powerful hymn of longing for their
homeland, demanded an encore of the piece. As encores were expressly
forbidden by the Austrian authorities ruling northern Italy at the
time to prevent public protests, 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
revised. At Verdi's funeral, the crowds in the streets
spontaneously broke into "Va, pensiero".
Nabucco is scored for two flutes (one doubling as piccolo), two oboes
(one doubling as English horn), two clarinets, two bassoons, four
horns, two trumpets, three trombones (two tenor, one bass), one
cimbasso, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, side drum, triangle, two harps,
strings, and an onstage band.
(Nabucco, Abigaille, Zaccaria, Ismaele, Fenena)
Opera house and orchestra
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI
CD: Warner Fonit
Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Cat: 417 407-2
Philharmonia Orchestra and the Ambrosian
CD: EMI Records
Cat: 747 488-2
Lucia Valentini Terrani
Deutsche Oper Berlin
Cat: DG 410 512-2
La Scala Orchestra and Chorus
Tokyo Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo
CD: Valois Auvidis
Gwyn Hughes Jones,
DVD: DG, live recording
Teatro Carlo Felice
Teatro Carlo Felice Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Dynamic, live recording
Teatro San Carlo
Teatro San Carlo Naples Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Brilliant Classics, live recording
Arena di Verona
Arena di Verona Orchestra and Chorus
DVD: Decca, live recording
Cat: DDD 0440 074 3245 7 DH
Teatro Regio di Parma
DVD:C Major,live recording
^ Budden, 1973, p. 95
^ a b c Verdi, "An Autobiographical Sketch" 1879 in Werfel and Stefan
1973, pp. 87–92. See also George Martin 1983 "Autobiographic
Sketch and Nabucco" pp. 81–85
^ Budden 1973, p. 92
^ a b Lessona, pp. 297–98, in Budden 1973, p. 92
^ a b c Verdi in Werfel and Stefan 1973, pp. 88–90
^ a b c d "Nabucodonosor: History" on giuseppeverdi.it, in English.
Retrieved 1 April 2013
^ a b David Kimbell, in Holden, pp. 978–79
^ Budden 1985, Verdi, p. 20
^ Budden 1973, p. 112.
^ "Her Majesty's Theatre", The Times, 4 March 1846, p. 5
^ Metropolitan Opera, Search: Nabucco; Repertory Statistics
^ Arena di Verona, Performance Archives
Opera House DVD Catalog
^ Von Rhein, John (22 September 1997). "Striking Opening For Lyric".
^ Parma's 2008 "Festival Verdi" Archived 2009-03-06 at the Wayback
Nabucco – 23 March 1972 Evening, performance details, Royal Opera
House Collections Online
^ Church, Michael (1 April 2013)."Review: Nabucco, Royal
London". The Independent. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
^ Melinda Bargreen (2015-08-10). "Seattle Opera's Nabucco: An old
story, told in a new way". The Seattle Times. Retrieved
^ In non-Italian-language productions, usually shown as priest to
^ Parts of this synopsis were first published on
(Archived 15 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine.; author: Simon
Holledge) and appear here by permission.
^ Nicolai quoted in Budden, 1973, p. 93
^ Parker, Roger (1997). Arpa d'or dei fatidici vati: The Verdian
Patriotic Chorus in the 1840s. EDT srl. p. 23.
^ Parker, Leonora's Last Act, 1997
^ Parker, "Verdi and Milan", 2007
^ Phillips-Matz 1993, p. 765
^ Recordings on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
^ Matthew Boyden; Nick Kimberley (2002). Joe Staines, ed. The Rough
Guide to Opera. Rough Guides. p. 216.
Budden, Julian (1973), The Operas of Verdi, Vol. 1. London: Cassell
Ltd, 1973. pp. 89–112. ISBN 0-304-31058-1
Budden, Julian (1985), Verdi (The Master Musicians series), London:
J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1985. (The book refers to 'Teatro Giglio of
Corfu', but there was never a theatre with this name in Corfu)
Kimbell, David, in Holden, Amanda (Ed.) (2001), The New Penguin Opera
Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane (1993), Verdi: A Biography. New York and
Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-313204-4
Parker Roger, (ed) (1988), "Nabucodonosor": Dramma Lirico in Four
Temistocle Solera (the works of Giuseppe Verdi), Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1988 ISBN 978-0-226-85310-9
Parker, Roger (1997), Leonora's Last Act: Essays in Verdian Discourse,
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997. ISBN 0-691-01557-0
Parker, Roger (2007), "Verdi and Milan" Lecture, 14 May 2007 given at
Gresham College, London; includes details of Nabucco
Werfel, Franz and Stefan, Paul (1973), Verdi: The Man and His Letters,
New York, Vienna House. ISBN 0-8443-0088-8
Baldini, Gabriele (1970), (trans. Roger Parker, 1980), The Story of
Giuseppe Verdi: Oberto to Un Ballo in Maschera. Cambridge, et al:
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-29712-5
De Van, Gilles (trans. Gilda Roberts) (1998), Verdi’s Theater:
Creating Drama Through Music. Chicago & London: University of
Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-14369-4 (hardback),
Martin, George, Verdi: His Music, Life and Times (1983), New York:
Dodd, Mead and Company. ISBN 0-396-08196-7
Osborne, Charles (1969), The Complete
Opera of Verdi, New York: Da
Capo Press, Inc. ISBN 0-306-80072-1
Parker, Roger (2007), ‘’The New Grove Guide to Verdi and His
Operas”, Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.
Parker, Roger (1988), Nabucco, Editor of the Critical Edition, 1988,
"The Center For Italian Studies", University of Chicago website.
Retrieved 7 April 2013.
Pistone, Danièle (1995), Nineteenth-Century Italian Opera: From
Rossini to Puccini, Portland, OR: Amadeus Press.
Toye, Francis (1931), Giuseppe Verdi: His Life and Works, New York:
Walker, Frank, The Man Verdi (1982), New York: Knopf, 1962, Chicago:
University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-87132-0
Werfel, Franz and Stefan, Paul (1973), Verdi: The Man and His Letters,
New York, Vienna House. ISBN 0-8443-0088-8
Wikimedia Commons has media related to
List of performances of
Nabucco on Operabase.
Nabucco: Scores at the International Music Score Library Project
Opera Guide, synopsis, libretto, highlights
Nabucco (in Italian)
Contextual commentary to libretto (in English)
Nabucodonosor, giuseppeverdi.it (in Italian)
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