Go inside this production of Nabucco with engaging articles, notes from the director, a complete plot synopsis artist bios, and more.
Each of us has a particular reason for loving the operas of Giuseppe Verdi. It might be the passionate outpourings of the central characters, the astounding energy of the orchestral and choral music, or the lyrical fervor that invigorates any listener’s heart and soul. All of those qualities permeate Nabucco, the first great success of Verdi’s career.
Nabucco was crucial in establishing Verdi as the great Italian composer of the 19th century. In the 174 years since the premiere took Milan by storm, this opera has repeatedly created a sensation at the world’s major opera houses. It boasts some of Verdi’s most unforgettable music (including the universally beloved chorus of Hebrew slaves, “Va, pensiero,” about which you can read fascinating details in this program’s feature article on the opera). The three central characters are each given stupendous arias, and the climactic confrontation of Nabucco and Abigaille is the first of Verdi’s extended scenes for soprano and baritone, a combination that invariably guarantees vocal thrills in the Verdi operas.
Despite musical strengths that enhance a hair-raising drama, Nabucco is nonetheless an opera comparatively rarely performed nowadays. At Lyric, for example, we’ve produced it just twice in our entire history, and the last time was nearly two decades ago. Why? Because it’s phenomenally difficult to cast. The key roles require virtual “super-singers” possessing remarkable range, vocal power, beauty of sound, and blazing charisma onstage.
When the right artists can be assembled, then the possibility of presenting Nabucco becomes reality, and I’m thrilled to say that those artists are with us this season. Heading our wonderful cast in the title role is Željko Lučić, the Serbian baritone who, in his long-awaited Lyric debut three seasons ago, moved our audiences deeply in his celebrated portrayal of Rigoletto. Russian dramatic soprano Tatiana Serjan made a triumphant Lyric debut last season in the title role of Tosca. In her return she takes on Verdi’s formidably challenging Abigaille, a spectacular vocal workout full of extraordinary coloratura acrobatics and demanding the ultimate in dramatic flair. Making his debut is the exceptional young Russian bass Dmitry Belosselskiy. Having been hugely impressed with his performances elsewhere, I’m delighted to bring him to Lyric for the role of Zaccaria.
It’s important in any Nabucco production that the supporting couple be cast with major artists, and we have them at Lyric in Sergei Skorokhodov (Ismaele), a star of St. Petersburg’s renowned Mariinsky Theatre, and Elizabeth DeShong (Fenena), a Ryan Opera Center alumna currently enjoying a very distinguished international career.
Verdi style is the specialty of our conductor, Carlo Rizzi, returning to the Lyric podium for the first time in more than two decades. I’ve known him and admired his artistry ever since our years of collaboration at Welsh National Opera.
The sheer vitality of this opera will be evident in the performances of Lyric’s orchestra and chorus. This is, in fact, one of the great operas for chorus, in which its role onstage is vital, not just in “Va, pensiero” but throughout. Under its chorus master, Michael Black, Lyric’s chorus will have its most spectacular showcase of the season in Nabucco.
The beautiful sets by Michael Yeargan and costumes by Jane Greenwood, and the new stage direction by Matthew Ozawa, will add to the joy of having Nabucco back on our stage.
Welcome to Lyric, and please enjoy the performance.
TIME: 586 B.C.
ACT ONE – Jerusalem
The Assyrian king, Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar) of Babylon, is rapidly advancing with his army toward the temple of Solomon. Within the temple walls, the Hebrews beg their god, Jehovah, not to let them fall prey to Nabucco (Chorus: Gli arredi festivi). The prophet Zaccaria brings in Nabucco’s daughter, Fenena, who is his hostage. Ismaele rushes in and announces that Nabucco has entered the city. Zaccaria entrusts Fenena to Ismaele, as he prepares for the final battle.
Fenena and Ismaele recall the time when Ismaele – as ambassador of Judea – was imprisoned in Babylon. Fenena rescued him, undeterred by the jealousy of her sister Abigaille, who loves Ismaele as well. Ismaele vows to free Fenena, although he would have to betray his own religion. Abigaille invades the temple at the head of a group of warriors. She taunts the lovers bitterly, but then, turning to Ismaele, reminds him that if he loved her, she could save his people (Trio: Io t’amavo!)
Just after the horrified Hebrews rush in, Nabucco arrives in triumph. Confronting an outraged Zaccaria, the king vows to destroy the Hebrews. Zaccaria threatens to kill Fenena, but Ismaele disarms him. Nabucco orders the temple sacked and burned. Zaccaria calls on Jehovah to punish Ismaele for betraying his people.
ACT TWO – The Unbeliever
Scene 1. Nabucco has gone off to battle, leaving Fenena as regent. Meanwhile, Abigaille, who had believed herself Nabucco’s daughter, has discovered a document proving she was born a slave. She vows that her anger will destroy Nabucco, but then pauses to think sadly of her love for Ismaele (Cavatina: Anch’io dischiuso un giorno). The High Priest of Baal comes to inform her that Fenena is setting the Hebrews free. Abigaille proclaims that Fenena will soon be begging a slave for mercy (Cabaletta: Salgo già dal trono aurato).
Scene 2. Zaccaria meditates on the greatness of Jehovah’s law (Prayer: Tu sul labbro) as he goes to give spiritual tutorship to Fenena. A group of Levites gathers and Ismaele attempts to speak with them, but they curse him furiously for his supposed betrayal (Chorus: Il maledetto non ha fratelli). Anna enters with the news that Fenena has converted to the Hebrew religion. Abdallo, one of Nabucco’s officers, rushes in to urge Fenena to flee, since Nabucco is presumed dead in battle and the Babylonians are now calling for Abigaille to seize power. Entering with the High Priest of Baal, Abigaille orders Fenena to hand the crown over to her. Nabucco appears with his soldiers (Finale: S’apressan gl’istanti d’un ira fatale) and claims the crown. Accusing the Babylonians of betraying him, he declares that the only god to be worshipped is himself. Suddenly struck by a thunderbolt, he becomes delirious and finally collapses.
ACT THREE – The Prophecy
Scene 1. The High Priest presents Abigaille with a death warrant authorizing the slaying of the Hebrews. When Nabucco is brought to Abigaille, he is incensed upon seeing her occupying the throne that is rightfully his (Duet: Donna, chi sei?…Oh, di qual’ onta aggravasi…Deh, perdona). She goads him into signing the warrant, and declares that the victims will include Fenena. Appalled, Nabucco orders Abigaille, a slave, to kneel before him. Seizing the document confirming her humble birth, Abigaille triumphantly tears it to pieces. Nabucco mocks himself as the mere shadow of a king. Trumpets announce that the hour of execution is approaching. When Nabucco begs Abigaille to have mercy on Fenena, she is unrelenting, leaving him in despair.
Scene 2. The Hebrews long for their homeland (Chorus: Va, pensiero). They are roused from this reverie by Zaccaria, who prophesies the destruction of Babylon (Aria with Chorus: Del futuro nel buio discerno).
ACT FOUR – The Shattered Idol
Scene 1. Nabucco is a prisoner in his own palace, where he suddenly awakens after the horrors of a nightmare. He hears a war cry, and then voices shouting Fenena’s name. Nabucco sees his weeping daughter in chains, being led to her execution. Powerless to save her, he prays to the god of the Hebrews for forgiveness, and swears that the temple will rise once more (Aria: Dio di Giuda). The faithful Abdallo arrives with soldiers. His sanity now restored, Nabucco readies himself for battle (Cabaletta: O prodi miei, seguitemi).
Scene 2. Fenena offers a final prayer (Aria: O, dischiuso è il firmamento!). The rites of execution are interrupted by the sudden appearance of Nabucco, who destroys the altar of Baal. Joined by Zaccaria and all the freed prisoners, he proclaims the greatness of the Hebrews’ god. Abigaille, who has taken poison, enters haltingly (Finale: Su me… morente… esanime). After begging Fenena’s forgiveness, she asks Jehovah not to curse her and falls dead.