Nabucco – Opera by Giuseppe Verdi: 8 Interesting Facts

The Nabucco opera is composed by Giuseppe Verdi – one of the most famous Italian composers. Sometimes referred to as Nabucodonosor Verdi, the Nabucco Verdi opera was inspired by the Old Testament. For the opera Nabucco libretto, Verdi was motivated by Biblical persons and historical events.

Va pensiero, the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, is considered to be one of the best opera songs for opera choir ever written. Verdi opera crossword clues often include questions about the Aida opera, the Traviata opera and the opera Nabucco.

In addition to the Va pensiero chorus, a highlight of a Verdi Nabucco grand opera performance is the opera music to the overture. In recent years, opera tours have included Lviv Ukraine. We invite you to purchase opera tickets and attend an opera show performance at the Lviv Opera House.


Read to Discover: Nabucco – The Opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi
Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi

There are 7 amazing facts about Nabucco, the opera by composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901) that lovers of opera music, as well as, history enthusiasts, Biblical scholars and literary buffs may find interesting.

Read to discover:

  1. The Nabucco Overture Introduces the Opera’s Musical Themes

  2. Va, pensiero, The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves is From the Opera Nabucco

  3. Nabucco is the Opera that Began Verdi’s Career as an Opera Composer

  4. Biblical Texts Were the Inspiration for Nabucco, the Opera

  5. Nabucco was an Ancient Historical Babylonian Ruler

  6. Temistocle Solera Based the Libretto on a French Play and an Italian Ballet

  7. The Opera Nabucco has a Very Complicated Plot

  8. Every Main Character and Even the Chorus Have a Prayer


The Nabucco Overture Introduces the Opera’s Musical Themes

Listen to opera music online as you read interesting facts about the opera Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi:

The audio clip above is the Nabucco overture (Introduction) interpreted by opera conductor Myron Yusypovych.

One of the most frequently performed segments of the Nabucco opera is the overture. Program notes for performances of the overture tend to stress the fact that the overture to Nabucco includes many of the musical themes that can be heard later in the opera itself.


The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – “Va, pensiero” – is From the Opera Nabucco

Va, pensiero at Lviv Opera
Va, pensiero at Lviv Opera

“Va, pensiero”, the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves is based on Biblical passages of the Old Testament. Specifically, Temistocle Solera (1815 – 1878), the librettist for Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Nabucco, reworked the words of Psalm 137 (138) in order to incorporate it into the opera Nabucco.

  • Yearning
  • Longing
  • Nostalgia for a far away land

are the key themes in the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – “Va, pensiero”.


Nabucco is the Opera that Began Verdi’s Career as an Opera Composer

Opera Nabucco at Lviv Opera
Opera Nabucco at Lviv Opera

The story of how Giuseppe Verdi came to compose the opera Nabucco runs like an opera itself.

Nabucco was Verdi’s third opera. The operas Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio (1939) and Un giorno di regno (1840) preceeded Nabucco. Verdi’s first opera, Oberto, was a mild success, while the second one, Un giorno…, was a disaster and left Verdi convinced that he would never compose another opera.

At this time, Bartolomeo Merelli (1794 – 1878) was the impresario at La Scala in Milan. In the 19th to mid 20th centuries when it came to organizing an opera season, an impresario was a key figure. Viewed from today’s perspective, an impresario was a type of producer and artistic manager.

Until the 1850s, an opera season at major European opera companies involved the performance of only newly commissioned operas. As impresario from 1829 to 1850 at La Scala, it was Merelli’s job to hire composers to compose operas for the opera season at this famous opera house.

Originally, Bartolomeo Merelli had offered the libretto of Nabucodonosor to Otto Nicolai (1810 – 1849), composer, conductor and founder of the Vienna Philharmonic. Otto Nicolai rejected the offer and Merelli approached Giuseppe Verdi. Interestingly, earlier Merelli had approached Verdi with the libretto for Il proscritto, which Verdi, in his despair, rejected. Nicolai accepted the commission and the opera premiered at La Scala in 1941.

As for the rest! Giuseppe Verdi personally felt, and most critics and opera scholars agree, that Nabucco was the opera that propelled him onto the European and international opera stages.


Biblical Texts Were the Inspiration for Nabucco, the Opera

Biblical Texts in Nabucco
Biblical Texts in Nabucco

The Nabucco opera takes place 700 years after the events described in the Book of Exodus. The story of the Jewish people’s flight from bondage in Egypt under the leadership of Moses has been vividly portrayed in various Hollywood films.

According to Biblical texts, after the Hebrews arrived in their promised land various leaders, including King David who made Jerusalem his capital, ruled them. King Solomon, David’s son, built the Holy Temple at Jerusalem (sometimes referred to as the Temple of Solomon) between 833BC and 827BC.

The opera Nabucco is based on the Book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah (655BC – 586BC) is considered a prophet by 3 of the world’s religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. According to Biblical texts, Jeremiah warned his people, the Hebrews, that Jerusalem and the Temple of Solomon would be destroyed.

According to the prophet Jeremiah, the reason The Temple at Jerusalem would be destroyed was because the people had broken their Covenant with God, which they had made during the time of Moses. They were keeping slaves and not adhering to the Ten Commandments. Most importantly, they were worshipping idols and not God, who had brought them out of bondage in Egypt.

According to the original libretto, as written by Temistocle Solera, the Book of Jeremiah was used as a source for the writing of the opera’s libretto. Indeed, the librettist introduces each part of the opera with a Biblical quote and reference. Unfortunately 3 out of 4 of the Biblical quote references in the early editions of the libretto, as well as, those used by some contemporary opera companies are incorrect.

On the other hand, the famous Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves – “Va, pensiero” is based almost verbatim on the Biblical texts of Psalm 137 (138).


Nabucco Was an Ancient Historical Babylonian Ruler

Nebuchadnezzar – A Historical Figure
Nebuchadnezzar – A Historical Figure

The ancient city of Babylon, the seat of the bygone Babylonian Empire, was located in what is today the Republic of Iraq.

The character Nabucco in the opera Nabucco was an actual historical figure who ruled ancient Babylon and is recorded in historical records under the name of Nebuchadnezzar II (605 – 562 BC). Jeremiah, the prophet and author of the Book of Jeremiah, lived during the time when Nebuchadnezzar II (referred to as Nabu-Kudurri-usu in Babylonian texts) was expanding his kingdom. According to historical records, in 597BC the city of Jerusalem was capture by the Babylonian armies. In 587 BC, the city of Jerusalem, including the Temple of Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonian army.

The opera Nabucco ends with Nabucco glorifying Jehovah as the One true God. The implication is that he will set the Hebrews free and allow them to return to the lands of Israel and to the Temple at Jerusalem. However, history contradicts this. The Hebrews did not return to the land of Jerusalem until after 539BC, about 25 years after the death of Nebuchadnezzar II, when Cyrus II of Persia (reigned 559 – 530 BC) captured Babylon.

The characters of Fenena and Abigaille are fiction. However, interestingly there appears to be historical evidence that the women of ancient Babylon enjoyed many of the same rights as men. Nevertheless, it was not a daughter, who inherited the historical throne at Babylon from Nebuchadnezzar II, but a son, Amel-Marduk.


Temistocle Solera Based the Libretto on a French Play and an Italian Ballet

The Original Nabucco Libretto
The Original Nabucco Libretto

Nabucco, the opera was originally named Nabucodonosor, a derivative of the historical name of Nebuchadnezzar. Certainly, there are some who continue to refer to the opera by this name.

Nabucodonosor was a historical figure (see above) referred to in the Bible (see above). A French dramatic play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois (1806 – 1871) and Francis Cornue entitled Nabucodonosor (1836) were inspired by this figure. Subsequently, the play was envisioned as a ballet choreographed by Antonio Cortesi (1796 – 1879), which premiered at La Scala in 1838.

On the title page of the original published libretto and piano score the drama and the ballet are given credit as inspiring the text. The libretto to the opera Nabucco was written by Temistocle Solera (1815 - 1878) and the music composed by Giuseppe Verdi (1813 – 1901). The opera Nabucco premiered on March 9, 1842.


The Opera Nabucco Has a Very Complicated Plot

Nabucco – A Complicated Synopsis
Nabucco – A Complicated Synopsis

The opening scenes of opera Nabucco are set in the ancient City of Jerusalem. The subsequent parts of the opera take place in the Kingdom of Babylon, a distance of 870 km (540 miles) from Jerusalem.

The plot appears complicated because there are a number of sub-plots.

First, there is a love triangle between Fenena (legitimate daughter of the Babylonian King Nabucco), Ismael (nephew of the King of Jerusalem and a slave in Nabucco’s dominion) and Abigaille (illegitimate daughter of Nabucco by a slave). Ismael is prepared to risk all for Fenena, including the condemnation of his people. He does not love Abigaille, who conspires to destroy Fenena. The final scene of the opera sees Ismael and Fenena reunited in their love for one another.

Second, there is Nabucco, who captures and enslaves the Hebrews; declares himself the one and only God; is struck by lightening and rendered mad; experiences a rebirth; asks for Jehovah’s forgiveness and, in the final scene, is proclaimed the King of Kings.

Third, there is Abigaille, Nabucco’s elder daughter, who mid-way through the opera discovers that she was born a slave. Abigaille plots to get rid of Fenena, the rightful heir to the throne of Babylon, by taking advantage of the incapacitated Nabucco and tricking him into sealing Fenena’s death warrant. In the end, Abigaille commits suicide.

Finally, there are the Hebrews, who are led by Zaccaria and his sister, Anna. After the Temple in Jerusalem is destroyed they are enslaved by the Babylonians. The Hebrews yearn for their homeland. Their prayers are answered when Nabucco repents and acknowledges the One True God, thus concluding the opera.

Text by Oksana A. Wynnyckyj-Yusypovych

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