Giuseppe Verdi

Opera in four acts
Libretto: Temistocle Solera after the drama by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue
World premiere: 9 March 1842, Regio Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Warsaw premiere: 25 February 1854, Teatr Wielki
Premiere of this production: 26 June 1992
In the original Italian with Polish surtitles

Nabucco was Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera, his first success after a premiere at La Scala and his first work with strong political overtones. Though the title is the Italian version of the name of the biblical Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in 1842 when Nabucco was first staged, Italy, split into small kingdoms and regions, was already striving to unite and free itself from the rule of Austria and France. And in the opera’s Act 3 the people of Judea conquered by Nabucco sing Va, pensiero…, i.e. ‘Fly, thought, on golden wings, fly over valleys and hills, where, soft and mild, the sweet air of our native land smells fragrant’. This chorus quickly became an informal patriotic hymn for the Italians, and Verdi achieved fame. It always makes a strong impression, as confirmed by the fact that censors in communist Poland delayed Nabucco’s postwar Polish premiere for some years. In his spectacular Warsaw production from 1992, Andrzej Kreutz Majewski augmented that impression even further by making the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, a symbolic site for Jewish ritual prayers, the focal element of his stage design. Nabucco embodies everything thanks to which Verdi conquered the world of opera. The opera’s themes are power and freedom. True to tradition, arias, ensembles and choruses are mutually intertwined and merge into long scenes of undiminished tension. The role of Abigaille, psychologically believable and filled with drama, tempts ambitious singers with an adequately strong soprano voice to show off their acting and vocal skills. Abigaille opens the gallery of Verdi’s opera women whose personalities and emotions expressed through singing are unparalleled.



Chorus and Orchestra of the Teatr Wielki - Polish National Opera
Polish National Ballet


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    Act I

    In passionate choruses, the priests and people of Jerusalem lament their defeat at the hands of Nabucodonosor, King of Babylon and beg Jehovah to prevent the capture of the Temple. In an impressive solo, ‘Sperate, o figli’, Zaccaria exhorts them to have faith in God, but the news that Nabucco is advancing on the Temple itself throws them once more into consternation.

    Ismaele, who brought the news of the enemy’s further advance, is left alone with Fenena, a hostage in the hands of the Jews, whom he has loved ever since she rescued him when, an Jewish envoy in Babylon, he had been thrown into prison. Their colloquy is interrupted by the appearance of Abigaille, Fenena’s supposed sister, at the head of a band of Babylonian soldiers. She threatens the two lovers with instant death, but admits to Ismaele that she loves him and says she has it in her power to save him if he were disposed to return her love. Zaccaria rushes in saying he has seen the King riding towards the Temple itself; in a moment Babylonian troops fill the Temple, and Nabucco himself rides to the door. Zaccaria threatens to kill Fenena, Nabucco’s daughter, if he desecrates the holy place, but Nabucco taunts the defeated Jews, and Zaccaria’s attempt of Fenena’s life is frustrated by Ismaele. Nabucco’s anger now flows unrestrained, and he orders the sacking of the Temple.

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    Act II

    The Jews have been carried captive into Babylon, and Nabucco, away at the wars, has left Fenena as Regent in his stead. Abigaille is jealous of her sister’s position. Her fury is unbridled, but she remembers her love for Ismaele. The High Priest of Bel informs her that Fenena is set- ting free the Jewish prisoners; he urges her to seize power, and says he has already spread the report that Nabucco has been killed in battle. The Hebrews are gathered together in a room of the palace. Zaccaria invokes the guidance of God. The people curse Ismaele, but Zaccaria reminds them that Fenena, for whose sake he committed the act of treachery, has become a convert to their faith. Abdallo rushes in to tell them that the popular cry goes up the King is dead, and that Abigaille plans Fenena’s death. In a moment Abigaille, surrounded by court officials, comes to demand the crown from Fenena. It is, however, Nabucco who steps between, them, seizes it, and places it on his own head, defying Abigaille to take it from him. Nabucco proclaims himself God, and commands the protesting Zaccaria and Fenena to bow down before him. There is a clap of thunder, and the crown is torn from his head by a supernatural force. Zaccaria proclaims the punishment of heaven on the blasphemer, but Abaigaille takes the crown, crying that the glory of Babylon is not yet departed.

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    Act III

    Abigaille has been installed as Regent, who demand the death of the captive Jews, amongst them Fenena. Nabucco is led into Abigaille’s presence by his faithful Abdallo. At first, he is enraged at finding someone else on his throne, but Abigaille taunts him into sealing the death sentence of the Jews. The second scene of the act takes place on the banks of the Euphrates, where the enslaved Jews sing the psalms of their lost fatherland. Zaccaria upbraids the Jews for their defeatist attitude and tries to galvanise them into life.

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    Act IV

    Nabucco in prison wakens from a nightmare. He sees her being led to execution, and prays movingly to Jehovah to pardon him his sin of pride and spare her life. Abdallo appears at the head of the guard and frees his master, who rushes out to rescue his daughter. The scene changes to the place of execution. A funeral march is heard and Fenena has a beautiful prayer as she and the Jews prepare for death. The arrival of Nabucco and his followers arrests the sacrifice, the false idol is thrown down as if by magic. And all join in a prayer of thanksgiving to Jehovah. The general rejoicing is interrupted by the arrival of Abigaille, who in her remorse has taken poison and presently dies, calling on God, as she does so, for forgiveness. Zaccaria promises glory to his convert, Nabucco.


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