There are several
legends about the composition of Nabucco.
They are based on hearsay to a large extent. In 1841-2, when the opera
was composed, Verdi was a
loyal subject of
Great-Duchy and was not actually involved in the national unification movement;
on the contrary, he showed scorn and disdain for politics (and
politicians) throughout his life and
depicted this quite vividly in operas such
as Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlos and Aida.
However, Nabucco gradually grew as an icon of Risorgimento
— the national independence and unification movement — because of its
subject — the Jews under
the Assyrians; between 1842 and 1861, it had 121 performances only
at La Scala but
then inexplicably vanished from the repertory of Milan's
main opera house until
1912; it was revived in the thirties when it acquired its role as the operatic
symbol of Italian unification.
Based on a French play,
in 1842 Nabucco was one of many operas based on Bible subjects. As
a matter of fact, the 1842 audience
applauded warmly the final chorus to
God Almighty, Immenso Jehova, not the now acclaimed Va Pensiero.
Nabucco has an uneven score with
occasional lapses into banality and some unsteady formal experiments that
we rarely see in Verdi's future
operas. Unusually for Verdi, Nabucco has no major tenor role.
The parts of Nabucco and Zaccaria offer tremendous opportunities for the baritone and
the bass, and
the role of Abigaille, always problematic to cast, can
prove highly effective for a
the agility to ascend to the heights of impervious acute and descend to
the depth of
low tonalities. The opera's real protagonist is
the chorus, which dominates most of the strongest scenes, and
which enters with such stirring effect at climactic
On 9 July 2016 a new
opened the summerseason of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in the spectacular setting of
the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. I saw and heard the 11 July performance. This
production does away with both the colossal Hollywoodapproach and
the Italian Risorgimento quite often associated with Nabucco.
The staging of the young and
Federico Grazzini, the sets of
Andrea Belli and the costumes of
Valeria Donata Battella place the action in
the ruins of a contemporary
Middle Eastern town during a war. The defeated group is in modern but
disheveled attire. The winners' group look more like terrorists than an army.
There are some good staging ideas: for instance the Va Pensiero
chorus is sung in a
prison courtyard rather than on a river bank.
the staging does not seem fully resolved.
On the musical side,
recent productions of Nabucco,
Gustav Kuhn and Riccardo Muti,
emphasized the opera's belcantonature,
rather than its anticipations of Verdi's later melodramas. The conductor John
Fiore followed a more traditional
approach, even though three of the protagonists
(Csilla Boross as Abigaille, Luca Salsi as
Nabucco and Alisa Kolosova as Fenena) are great in belcanto and gave a
belcanto slant to their respective roles.
Vitalij Kowaljow as
Zaccaria is an effective Eastern European bass.
Antonio Corianò as Ismaele is a good melodramatic tenor. The Teatro dell'Opera chorus (a real protagonist) did marvels under
the guidance of Roberto Gabbiani.