Major Operas | Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi | High Romantic

Nabucco was originally named Nabucodonosor. An opera in four acts set in Jerusalem and Babylon in the sixth century bc, Nabucodonosor was first produced at La Scala, Milan on 9 March 1842 with Giuseppina Strepponi, who later became Verdi’s second wife, as Abigaille.

The opera was not billed as Nabucco until 1844. It occasioned Verdi’s first serious brush with the censors, who criticized it for its biblical sources. The real message, though, was their concern for the way the opera’s theme of a people enslaved by a cruel conqueror could be used to further the Risorgimento movement.

Composed: 1841
Premiered: 1842, Milan
Libretto by Temistocle Solera, after Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois, Francis Cornue and Antonio Cortesi

Act I

The Israelites lament their fate at the hands of Nabucco, King of Babylon. The high priest Zaccaria enters with a hostage: Nabucco’s daughter Fenena. She is entrusted to Ismaele, who loves her; she freed him in Babylon and he intends to return the favour. Abigaille, Nabucco’s elder daughter, enters and offers to free the Hebrews if Ismaele returns her love; he refuses. Nabucco enters. Zaccaria threatens Fenena but Ismaele saves her. Zaccaria declares him a traitor and Nabucco orders the temple to be destroyed.

Act II

Abigaille finds out that she is actually a slave’s daughter and swears vengeance on Nabucco and Fenena, who is regent during the war. Encouraged by the high priest of Belo, Abigaille considers killing Fenena and announcing that Nabucco is dead. Zaccaria converts Fenena to the Hebrew faith and Ismaele is pardoned for saving her. Abdallo, a royal advisor, warns Fenena to flee but it is too late; Abigaille arrives. Nabucco returns, declaring himself king and god. Lightning knocks the crown from his head and sends him mad. Abigaille grabs the crown.


In Babylon, Abigaille is hailed as queen. She tricks Nabucco into sealing a death warrant for all Hebrews. He realizes too late that Fenena will die. He threatens Abigaille with revealing her lowly birth, but she destroys the documents. Pleading with her to spare Fenena’s life, Nabucco is taken away and imprisoned. The Hebrews lament the loss of their homeland. They pray for help and Zaccaria foresees their revenge.

Act IV

The imprisoned Nabucco tries to escape and begs forgiveness from the Hebrew god, promising to convert the Babylonians. He is released and sets out to rescue Fenena and reclaim the crown. The executioners prepare to kill the Hebrews. Nabucco arrives, ordering the idol of Belo to be destroyed; it shatters of its own accord. Praying to the Hebrew god for forgiveness, Abigaille poisons herself and dies. Nabucco declares his new faith and commands the Hebrews to return to their homeland.

Sounds Familiar

‘Va pensiero’
In ‘Va pensiero’, from Nabucco, the Hebrews exiled in Babylon send thoughts to their faraway homeland. Italians under foreign rule identified with them and the chorus became the anthem of the Risorgimento. It was sung by the crowds at Verdi’s funeral in Milan...

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