‘Nabucco’ returns to Real after a century and a half of absence


Scene from the production of ‘Nabucco which is received by the Teatro Real q and which is set in the 19th century. / Monika Ritterhouse

The action moves from ancient Babylon to Europe at war in the 19th century in the new co-production with the Zurich Opera / The popular title that cemented Verdi’s career can be seen on July 15 in squares, auditoriums, theaters and museums from all over Spain

Michael Lorenci

‘Nabucco’ is one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most popular operas. It has not been performed at the Teatro Real for a century and a half, and the coliseum has chosen it to close the season of its return to full normality after the worst of the pandemic. In a new co-production between the Real and the Zurich Opera, it will offer 15 performances, between July 5 and 22, with musical direction by Nicola Luisotti and staging by Andreas Homoki. In this long-awaited ‘Nabucco’ the action moves from ancient Babylon to Europe at war with the emerging nations of the 19th century. On July 15 it will be possible to enjoy a live broadcast in squares, auditoriums, theaters, museums and cultural centers throughout Spain.

‘Nabucco’ was the first Verdi title to be played in 1850 at the newly built Teatro Real, during the acoustic tests prior to its opening. The opera premiered on its stage in 1853 and was presented in successive seasons and with enormous success, until 1871. Since then it had not been offered in its hall again. Now, 151 years after his last performance at the Real, he returns to the coliseum with three casts of great voices from Verdi.

Andreas Homoki, stage director and debutant at the Real, transfers the conflict between Jews and Babylonians from the 6th century BC to the confrontation between Italians and Austrians in the 19th century. “The polytheistic system of the Babylonians is contrasted, as a utopia, with a new and modern system, embodied in the monotheistic vision of the world of the Hebrews,” he explains.

In ‘Nabucco’ the choir occupies a primordial role, both in the musical structure and in the dramaturgy. The Royal Theater Choir will sing the famous ‘Va pensiero’ of the slave choir, giving voice to the oppressed, as in the mythical Babylon of the 6th century BC, Italy in the 19th century or Ukraine today.

The drama takes place in an austere, minimalist and conceptual set designed by set designer Wolfgang Gussmann, who also signs the sumptuous costumes together with Susana Mendoza.

Crucial for Verdi

‘Nabucco’ belongs to Verdi’s first creative period and was crucial in the life and artistic career of the legendary Italian composer. Verdi was going through a deep crisis after the death of his two children and his wife and the resounding failure of ‘Un giorno di regno’. He was thinking of giving up composition, but a fortuitous meeting with the director of La Scala in Milan, who proposed the creation of an opera with a biblical libretto by Temistocle Solera, about the resistance of the Jewish people to the Babylonian invasion under the aegis of Nabucco, inspired to the composer, who wrote the score with hardly any rest.

It premiered on March 9, 1842 at La Scala. The success was resounding and the association of the oppression of the Jews with that of the Italians, under the yoke of the Austro-Hungarian empire, gave the opera enormous popularity. He transformed Verdi into one of the heroes of the ‘Risorgimento’, which would lead to the unification of the Italian territories. The melody of the slave choir would become the unofficial anthem of the new Italy.

It also elevated the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi, Verdi’s future partner, who sang the devilish role of Abigaille. Success was the spur for Verdi to resume his brilliant creative career

Nicola Luisotti will conduct his seventh Verdi title in Madrid at the head of the Teatro Real Head Choir and Orchestra, after ‘Il trovatore’ (2007), ‘Rigoletto’ (2015), ‘Aida’ (2018), ‘Don Carlo’ (2019 ), ‘La traviata’ (2020) and ‘Un ballo in maschera’ (2020).

The role of Nabucco is sung by the baritones Luca Salsi, George Gagnidze, Gabriele Viviani and Luis Cansino; that of Abigaille the sopranos Anna Pirozzi, Saioa Hernández and Oksana Dyka; that of Ismaele the tenors Michael Fabiano and Eduardo Aladrén; that of Fenena the mezzo-sopranos Silvia Tro Santafé, Elena Maximova and Aya Wakizono; that of Zaccaria, the basses Dmitry Belosselskiy, Roberto Tagliavini and Alexander Vinogradov, and that of the Great Priest, the basses Simon Lim and Felipe Bou.

The premiere will be preceded by a summer preview, on July 2 at 6:00 p.m., followed by an ‘After Opera’ for young people up to 35 years of age in the Royal Ballroom. On Friday, July 15, the opera will be broadcast for free on MyOperaPlayer and can be seen in squares, cultural centers, museums, auditoriums and theaters throughout Spain, as part of the Opera Week programme.

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