Nabucco  (Nebuchadnezzar), 1842

Biblical? Historical? Made up?

“True to its biblical inspiration, Nabucco is an opera of unapologetically epic proportions: rulers challenge their gods, love struggles against empire, and religious revelation goes hand in hand with divine retribution.” (Metopera) But it’s a wildly different story from the Biblical one and the characters, especially the amazing Abigail, are operatic inventions. The librettist, Solera, started with a French play (whose plot is far more complex and subtle!) Solera simplified, invented the love triangle and Abigail’s discovery of the ‘fatal scritto’, and character development. He also designed a more decorous ending with fewer deaths.  And all importantly, “Solero’s greatest innovation lay in the emphasis he gave to the chorus. His Nabucco is a drama not of people but of a people.” (Budden 1973, p 95) * Julian Budden, The Operas of Verdi, Volume 1, (Cassell 1973). We have all 3 volumes of this fascinating work for loan in our group.

Nabucco in Verdi’s life

His beloved wife died (following the deaths of their two baby children) whilst he was working on Un giorno di regno – which was a flop. Verdi swore he’d never write another note, and according to one biographer read only bad novels.  But in a chance meeting with Merelli, the La Scala impresario, he was shown the libretto (titled Nabucodonosor)  already turned down by another composer, as nothing but “rage, invective, bloodshed and murder.”  Verdi famously recorded he threw it down, and it fell open at the
line “Va pensiero…”  Sleepless, he read the libretto many times, but returned it to Merelli, who in turn shoved it in his pocket.  “I went back home with Nabucco in my pocket.. one day one line, another the next, a note here, a phrase there…. And bit by bit the opera was written.”  He finished Nabucco in 1841, when he was 28, and wrote,  “With this opera, my artistic career may be said to have begun”. (Budden, 1973, p 93.*)  He was right.  “Nabucco underpinned Verdi's success until his retirement from the theatre, twenty-nine operas (including some revised and updated versions) later. At its debut in La Scala for the 1842 autumn season it was given an unprecedented (and later unequalled) total of 57 performances; within three years it had reached (among other venues) Vienna, Lisbon, Barcelona, Berlin, Paris and Hamburg; in 1848 it was heard in New York, in 1850 in Buenos Aires.“ (from Wikipedia)

Friday May 4th

OA production at Vic Arts Centre (1996). Dir. Barrie Kosky, Cond. Carlo Felice Cillario.