MET Opera House building–Lincoln Center/Wednesday October 4th, 2023.
This week, friends, welcome once again to the MET Opera.
And welcome to classic 19th century opera, including unbelievably stunning soaring melodies, sumptuous choruses, jaw dropping romantic, political and family drama, and to top it off, set in biblical times.
Wow and yay!
Welcome to a colossal opera, from iconic and revered Italian composer, the great and fabulously talented, Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), and in my opinion, who wrote the most beautiful opera choruses, ever.
And only 28 year-old, at the time he (Verdi), composed this grandiose work.
Yay and wow!
Welcome to Verdi’s first international opera success, from 1841, “Nabucco”, based loosely on biblical history from the Old Testament, and from the 1836 French play, “Nabuchodonosor”, co-authored by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois (1806-1871) and Francis Cornu (1794-1848).
So, what is “Nabucco” about?
This four acts grand opera portrays in unusual ways, how “divine” power, is the only true power on Earth.
An all encompassing “divine” power, which will eventually, and always respond; of course, yet only, in its own time.
A divine power that will indeed, respond to prayers, and even pleas for forgiveness, especially, if one shows humility, and in particular, if one chooses to convert.
Specifically, “Nabucco” tells the ancient story of the destiny of two enemy “clans”, the Israelites and the Babylonians, who will all, eventually, and fortunately, in the end, embrace peace, respect for one another, freedom and happiness, after an initial assault, conquest, and subsequent exile, for the Israelites, from their homeland, by the arrogant Babylonian king, Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar II); thanks to “divine” intervention.
Wow and yay!!!
Let’s take a quick look and listen to a very short “Nabucco” trailer:
And most of these historical events were used astutely, and of course, as this is opera, with the inclusion of a few “creative leaps”, by Verdi and his librettist, Temistocle Solera (1815-1878), which particularly resonated with the Italian crowds at the time the opera was composed; especially, with the Milanese, who were still occupied by the Austrian Army, and were deeply moved by the Israelites communal struggle for liberation, from the Babylonian king, Nabucco.
So what are the nuts and bolts of the story?
Let me tell you, in as few words as possible:
Act I depicts the prayers of a group of Israelites inside a temple, lead by Zaccaria, their high priest, to find “divine” help, against the current conquest of Jerusalem by Nabucco (king of Babylon).
As the group leaves the temple, we discover the dashing Ismaele, nephew of the King of Jerusalem, left alone with a “hostage”, Nabucco’s daughter, the good hearted and charming Fenema, whom Ismaele is in love with, as she earlier helped Ismaele, escape imprisonment in Babylon, and followed him to Jerusalem.
Yet, suddenly, appears Fenema’s half sister, Abigaille, also in love with the dashing Ismaele, and Abigaille tells Ismaele she can save him and his people, if he will return her love, but Ismaele categorically refuses.
Zaccaria and his group, rush back in the temple, only to confront Nabucco who arrives, unexpectedly. Zaccaria threatens to kill Fenema. Ismaele disarms Zaccaria, and delivers Fenema to her father (Nabucco).
Nabucco orders the destruction of the temple.
By Act II, Nabucco has appointed his daughter Fenema, regent, while he is away.
Abigaille, back at the royal palace in Babylon, discovers an official document stating that she is not the king’s daughter, but the child of slaves.
She (Abigaille) swears vengeance on all. The Babylonian high priest (of Baal) offers the throne to Abigaille, and proposes to spread the rumor that Nabucco has fallen in battle.
Meanwhile, the Israelite high priest Zaccaria, has forgiven Ismaele (accused of treachery by his fellow compatriotes), as Fenema has recently, converted to Judaism. Before Fenema can escape, as her life is now in danger as a new convert, the Babylonian high priest (of Baal) arrives, with Abigaille and other Babylonians, who proclaim Abigaille, ruler. But, as she, Abigaille, is about to crown herself, to everyone’s surprise, Nabucco appears, takes the crown from her, declares himself, not only king, but also God.
Suddenly a “divine” thunderbolt strikes him, and Abigaille retrieves the crown for herself.
By Act III, Abigaille is hailed as the Babylonian ruler. The Babylonian high priest (of Baal) urges her to kill the Israelites, but before she can give this order, Nabucco reappears, half mad. Abigaille tricks him into signing the death warrant of the captive Israelites, including the recently converted, Fenema.
Nabucco then, looks for the official document proving Abigaille’s ancestry, which Abigaille finds, and tears into pieces, in front of him, defiantly. Nabucco pleads in vain for Fenema’s life.
On the banks of of the Euphrates, the Israelites remember their lost homeland. Zaccaria tells them they will overcome captivity, and find a way back home, with God’s help.
Let’s now listen to a short excerpt of this illustrious and gorgeous chorus, which has become an iconic symbol of freedom.
By Act IV, Nabucco prays God (of Israel and not Baal) for forgiveness, and even, converts to Judaism. His sanity restored, he summons his soldiers to regain the throne, and save his daughter. Nabucco then, frees the Israelites, telling them to go back to their homeland, and to rebuild their temple.
Israelites and Babylonians finally unite, in praise of God.
Abigaille, filled with remorse, has taken poison, and dies confessing her crimes, and praying to God (of Israel and not Baal) to pardon her.
What to say about Nabucco’s production itself?
That Elijah Moshinsky’s grandiose, majestic production, set in these ancient biblical times, enhanced the whole spirituality of the opera, with beautiful depictions of Israelite and Babylonian religious symbols.
I especially liked the “rotating” scene allowing the audience to either, be “sent to” Jerusalem (in Act I), or to Babylon (for the rest of the opera).
I also especially enjoyed the poetic and simple depiction chosen in Act I, for the temple of Israel in flames, thanks to well positioned “flaming” torches, and the half built wooden crosses, reminding us of the brutality of these times.
I loved in the following acts, the “sphinx-bull like” royal palace, in Babylon: so grand, regal, and a touch primitive.
And of course, I loved also, the awesome lighting effects, to depict God’s “thunderbolt”, to punish Nabucco’s arrogance (who believes himself at one point, to be God).
What to say of the conductor and performers?
That all of them, including the chorus of “slaves”, were, as was the orchestra, wonderfully conducted, with great sensitivity, talent, and care, under Daniele Callegari’s inspired baton.
And two singers, particularly stood out for me:
First and foremost, Ukrainian soprano, and singing the role of Abigaille, Liudmyla Monastyrska, was fabulous, as the wicked and yet contrite half sister/ monarch to be/ “daughter” and fellow human: such great acting, such beautiful, powerful, and at times, highly emotional “pianissimo” singing.
Second, in the role of the love struck, religiously inclined, and courageous Fenema, clear sounding, resolute, cristalline, Russian mezzo soprano, Maria Barakova, was wonderful, and totally believable.
So, to sum up my feelings, about Verdi’s stunning, regal, and “divine led” “Nabucco”, admired last Wednesday, in great company: what a dramatic set of romantic, political and family oriented events, set in biblical times, which unexpectedly, turn out well, allowing all, to find peace and happiness, thanks to timely, mysterious and awesome “divine intervention”. And how spectacular are two of the main characters: Monastyrska, as the formidable, angry half-sister, who eventually asks for forgiveness for her “wickedness”, and what a moving and beautiful sounding “Fenema”, Barakova embodies perfectly. And finally, what a powerful, majestic, and gorgeous Moshinsky production, allowing us to experience this biblical drama, with such delight, ease, and pleasure.
And not to be missed!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊