Giuseppe Verdi, Libretto by Temistocle Solera
Grand Théâtre de Genève
Grand Théâtre de Genève, Switzerland

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The Cast of Nabucco Credit: Carole Parodi
The Cast of Nabucco Credit: Carole Parodi
The Cast of Nabucco Credit: Carole Parodi

The première of Nabucco at La Scala in Milan in 1842 was a major turning point in the 28-year-old Giuseppe Verdi’s artistic career. The ensembles are a rallying cry and they had a tremendous political impact during Italy’s struggle for independence over the next 30 years. The slogan "Viva VERDI!" was used as an acronym for Viva Vittorio Emanuele Re D'Italia (Long Live Victor Emmanuel King of Italy).

"Va, pensiero", a fervent Hebrew choral prayer, is a deeply heartfelt song of exile. It was one of the most popular and moving tunes of the era, echoing the Italians’ own longing for a reunited Italy and freedom from Austrian rule.

In 586 BCE, Nabucco, the tyrant king of Babylon, is struck mad by a bolt of lightning when he announces he is no longer a king but a god, and orders Jews and Babylonians to pray to him. He only regains his sanity when he asks God to forgive his blasphemy.

Riccardo Zanellato, who plays Zaccaria, the High Priest, who prophesies the Hebrews will overcome captivity and destroy Babylon, has gravitas; but Christiane Jatahy’s production, conducted by Antonio Fogliani, lacks Biblical grandeur. The chorus is dressed in casual modern clothes.

Nicola Alaimo’s Nabucco, massive in a blue suit, looks like a Mafioso wrestler rather than the familiar bearded, regal Nebuchadnezzar image. Saioa Hernández’s treacherous Abigaille wears trousers. Ena Pongrac’s hostage Fenena, dressed in a white lace wedding burqa, looks and moves like a dalek. A huge mirror behind the cast doubles the images on view in a distracting way. The stage is flooded at one point by a downpour of rain.

The singing is superior to the production. The opera is dominated by Abigaille, Nabucco’s adopted daughter, ambitious for the crown. Hernandez’s act 2 solo and her confrontation with Nabucco, when he has lost his wits, are dramatic and musical high spots. So too is a trio with Pongrac and Davide Giusti, cast as Ismaele, Fenena’s lover.

"Va, Pensario" is reprised at the end of the opera with the chorus in all parts of the auditorium. At Verdi’s state funeral in 1901, 300,000 filled the streets of Milan to watch the immense funeral carriage, drawn by six horses. "Va, pensiero" was sung by a chorus of 800, conducted by Toscanini.

Grand Théâtre de Genève’s Nabucco can be watched free on the OperaVision channel.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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