Nabucco, Opera by Giuseppe Verdi
The state funeral of Giuseppe Verdi on 27 February 1901, exactly one month after his death, is still the largest public gathering ever recorded in Italy. The crowds that lined the streets of Milan that day, as his cortege went past, sang "Va, pensiero", the so-called Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from his first great success, Nabucco.
It was a fitting tribute to a figure who had single-handedly put his country’s contribution to opera back on the map. "Va, pensiero" had, for many Italians, become their national anthem; the music they chose to celebrate their reunification into a single kingdom.
The proclamation of one dominion over another is the subtext for Nabucco, Verdi’s biblical epic in which Jerusalem is overthrown by the invading Babylonians. But statehood, in Verdi’s scheme of things, is no match for the power of love.
Both Fenena and Ismaele, on opposing sides in the war, are driven by their feelings for one another, with first Ismaele saving Fenena from certain death at the hands of the Jewish high priest, Zaccaria, and then Fenena repaying her debt by freeing the Israelites from their Babylonian prison.
After Abigaille, Fenena’s vengeful half-sister, demands the highest price for Fenena’s apparent treason, her execution, their father Nabucco, the King of Babylon, calls upon the help of his enemy’s god to find the resolve to save his daughter.
First performed on 9 March 1842 in Milan at the Teatro alla Scala, Nabucco provided the affirmation that Verdi had been searching for: that he could indeed carve out a career as a composer; a vital panacea to assuage the loss of his wife and two infant children rather than a musician’s contribution to the Risorgimento. Now the Vienna State Opera provides the stage for an opera that proves that love really does conquer all.