Performed in the original Italian with Czech surtitles
Premiere on 8th June 2007, Janáček Theatre
The famous dramatic opera that Verdi composed in the course of just a few weeks in 1842. It nearly didn’t happen: the premiere of his preceding opera King for a Day was so unsuccessful that the young composer, furthermore crushed by the death of his wife, wanted to give up on opera. It was only with difficulty that he allowed himself to be persuaded to write the music to a libretto with an Old Testament theme. The Babylonians, under the leadership of King Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco), storm Jerusalem, destroy Solomon’s temple and take the Jewish people into captivity. Jehovah punishes Nabucco with insanity, and on top of this he has to face the intrigues of his supposed daughter Abigaille. In the end he recognises his mistake and Jehovah’s strength and sets the Jews free. The popularity of this operatic tale of the freeing of the Jews from Babylonian captivity was linked to the desire of Italians at the time of its creation to be freed from their Habsburg overlords. At the time of the opera’s premiere the famous chorus “Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate” (Fly, thought, on golden wings…) became a liberation song sung throughout Italy. For its tense solo performances, beautiful choruses, suggestive music and wonderful journey Nabucco is one of the most successful works in our repertoire.
Janáček Opera Ensemble and Orchestra of the National Theatre Brno
The terrified people of Jerusalem flock to the Temple of Solomon, to pray that their nation be saved from Babylonian army of King Nebuchadnezzar. The Jewish high priest Zacharias comforts the people, and exhorts them to faith and love. With him is Fenena, the daughter of the Babylonian king, who has come over to the Jewish side out of love for Israelite commander Ishmael. Zacharias believes that she can move the king of Babylon to negotiate, and goes forward with the people to meet the enemy. Fenena remains alone with Ishmael, and at this difficult moment the two assure each other of their love. They are surprised, however, by the sudden arrival of Abigail, Fenena’s ambitious and power-hungry half-sister, who has entered the temple by a secret passage. She is passionately in love with Ishmael, and yearns to become queen of Babylon. Ishmael rejects her love, and Abigail resolves to take vengeance. Nebuchadnezzar attacks the city, driving before him the Hebrew soldiers, who seek refuge in the temple together with people and the Levites. In this excitement Zacharias threatens to kill Fenena before eyes of the Babylonian king. At the last instant, however, he is prevented from doing so by Ishmael, who is thus seen by the people as a traitor. The victorious Nebuchadnezzar orders his troops to plunder and destroy the temple.
Abigail learns that, as the daughter of a slave woman, she has no claim to her father’s throne, and so is resolved to eliminate him as well. The Babylonian high priest and his wise men are with her, ready to help her gain power.
The subjugated Israelite nation waits to be taken in captivity to Babylon. Zacharias prays to Jehovah, the people, however, desire Ishmael’s death. Zacharias and Fenena save him from the agitated mob. Abigail rushes in with the Babylonian priests and demands the royal crown from Fenena. Nebuchadnezzar interrupts this dispute, and his soldiers force all to submit. In his arrogance and price he mocks at the divinity, and proclaims himself to be the only god. His blasphemous words are cut short by a bolt of lightning which knocks him to the ground. Half-crazed, he calls Fenena to him, while Abigail seizes the crown that has fallen from his head.
The people of Babylon celebrate Abigail as their new queen. Nebuchadnezzar, helpless and confused, is decieved into putting his seal on an order for Fenena’s death and the transfer of power to Abigail. Abigail, triumphant, has her father taken away to prison.
The enslaved people od Israel, delivered into a hostile country, labor in Babylon building a tower. They long to return to their homeland and to see the defeats of their enemies. Zacharias calls on them to be brave. The people’s determination to rebel is humbled by the quards’whips.
In prison, Nebuchadnezzar bitterly regrets his deeds, and frears for Fenena‘s life. He hears the excited cries od the crowd as it condemens her, and wants to run to her aid. His loyal general Abdalo, however, warns him that there in no way of escape. Suddenly the wall of the prison opens, and the trops arrive to free their king. Nebuchadnezzar stands at the head of the army and leads it to Fenena’s rescue.
Ishmael, Zacharias and Fenena await their deaths. Nebuchadnezzar arrives at the temple of Baal in time, and orders the statue of the pagan god destroyed in front of the treacherous high priest. Before the soldiers can carry out his order, however, the statue itself falls to the ground. Nebuchadnezzar grants the Israelites their freedom. Abigail, bereft of all hope, finds a way out only in suicide.