Opera in four acts (or four parts) to a libretto by Temistocle Solera
Music by Giuseppe Verdi
First performance at the Scala in Milan, March 9, 1842.
Nabucco’s First Triumph
In 1836, Verdi was appointed choirmaster in Busseto but resigned two years later and moved to Milan. He married Barezzi’s daughter and composed Oberto which was well received at the Scala in 1839. He was commissioned with a playful melodrama, Un Giorno di Regno, which turned out to be a resounding failure in 1840. However, the work was composed in troubled times for Verdi between 1838 and 1840. Verdi lost his two children and his wife, one after another, during these years. Experiencing a crisis of unparalleled discouragement, he thought to abandon opera, but then Merelli the impresario, offered him Temistocle Solera’s libretto: Nabucco. The “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves,” crying for their lost homeland, “va pensiero,” emotionally moved Verdi to write this passionate work. Nabucco’s first performance was in Milan on March 9, 1842, and was heralded an unparalleled triumph. The theme of an oppressed people immediately touched the heart of the Italians, who were then under Austrian domination.
Nabucco, King of Babylon (baritone)
Ismaele, nephew of Sedecias, King of Jerusalem (tenor)
Zaccaria, high priest of the Jews (bass)
Abigaille, slave, supposedly Nabucco’s elder daughter (soprano)
Fenena , Nabucco’s daugther (soprano)
High Priest of Baal (bass)
Abdallo, senior officer of the King of Babylon (tenor)
Anna, Zaccaria’s sister (soprano)
Chorus: Babylonian soldiers, Hebrew soldiers, Levites, mages, Hebrew virgins, Babylonian women, nobility from the kingdom of Babylon, people.
In the first act, the scene takes place in Jerusalem. In the next acts, the scene takes place in Babylon.
Act I : Jerusalem
Nabucco, King of Babylon threatens Jerusalem, which he wants to conquer. In Solomon’s Temple, Zaccaria the high priest reassures the people: Fenena, Nabucco’s daughter is being held hostage. She is being watched over by Ismaele but both young people secretly love each other. Abigaille, the supposed elder sister of Fenena, enters into the Temple at the head of the first Assyrian troops. Abigaille is overcome with jealousy when she sees the young couple; she is also in love with Ismaele. Nabucco also enters the Temple. Zaccaria threatens to sacrifice Fenena. Ismaele saves her but gives the victory to Nabucco who then ransacks the city and takes the Hebrews into captivity in Babylon.
Act II : The Impious One (Babylon)
Before leaving for war, Nabucco appoints Fenena regent. Abigaille discovers a document which reveals she is not the king’s daughter but a slave. She foresees the death of her rival and her own accession to the throne. A rumor is spread that Nabucco has died in battle. While Zaccaria is preparing to convert Fenena, Abigaille tries to steal the crown when suddenly Nabucco appears. He seizes the crown and proclaims himself both king and god. Lightning strikes, the king falls to the ground and he sinks into madness. Abigaille triumphantly seizes the crown.
Act III : The Prophecy (in gardens of Babylon)
The High Priest of Baal requests Abigaille to order the death of all Hebrews. Abigaille pushes Nabucco to insanity and tricks him to sign the death warrant which includes Fenena. On the banks of the Euphrates, the Hebrew exiles mourn their lost homeland, but Zaccaria prophesies the liberation of his people and the destruction of Babylon.
Act IV : The Broken Idol (Babylon)
In the royal palace, Nabucco is delusional. He sees his daughter Fenena being taken to her death. He prays to the God of the Hebrews and asks forgiveness. His reason is immediately restored and at the same time he earns back the loyalty of his warriors. All rush to stop the sacrifice of Fenena. Nabucco is then converted to Judaism. He orders the destruction of the idol of Baal and frees the Hebrew people. Abigaille, seized by remorse, swallows poison and asks Jehovah’s forgiveness.