Another fantastic season comes to an end at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur this May, with a staging of Nabucco, one of Verdi’s best known and loved works.
Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate (Fly, thought, on golden wings) – these are the opening words of one of the most beautiful and well-known choruses in the world of opera. It’s the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco, sung as they gather on the banks of the Euphrates River, lamenting the loss of their fatherland.
Nabucco – a four-act opera composed in 1841 – is regarded as the work which established the reputation of Guiseppe Verdi as a composer, and to which Verdi himself referred as “the opera with which my artistic career really begins”. It was also linked to the end of his life, for when Verdi died in Milan in 1901, the crowd of over 300,000, which had gathered for his solemn funeral procession, joined a massed choir to sing this emotional chorus.
The Italian libretto for Nabucco, by Temistocle Solera, was based partly on the biblical story of the conquest of the Hebrews by Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, as catalogued in the books of Jeremiah and Daniel. Solera also partly based his libretto on an 1836 play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue, although it’s believed that he was influenced to a greater degree by Antonio Cortese’s 1836 balletic adaptation of the play. The opera – under its original Italian name, Nabucodonosor – was premiered at La Scala on 9th March 1842.
Nabucco opens in the year 586 BC, with Nebuchadnezzar (or Nabucco in its shortened form), and his army at the gates of Jerusalem, which is about to fall to them, forcing the Jewish people into exile from their homeland. Against the backdrop of these historical events, two plots unfold – one romantic, one political. The romantic plot involves Fenena – Nabucco’s daughter, who had been held hostage by the Hebrews – her jailer, Ismaële, with whom she’s in love, and Abigaille, her supposed half-sister, who is also in love with Ismaële. On the political front, Abigaille’s jealousy of Fenena is heightened when Nabucco appoints Fenena as regent in his absence, and Abigaille discovers that she’s not Nabucco’s daughter at all, but was sold to him as a slave.
Italian soprano Raffaella Angeletti sings the role of Abigaille, one which she has sung with Opéra national de Lorraine à Nancy and Teatro dell’Opera Roma, and which she will go on to sing in the Opéra de Toulon production of Nabucco in June. Ms Angeletti has appeared in most of the major international opera houses in Europe, her performances including the title roles in Puccini’s Turandot and Tosca, Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s Macbeth and Amelia in his Un ball in maschera.
Fenena is sung by French mezzo-soprano Julie Robard-Gendre, whose most important appearances have been in operas such as Offenbach’s La Périchole at Metz Opera, the title role of his La Belle Hélène at the Opera of Rennes, Carmen at Rheims Opera, Orphée in Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice at Angers-Nantes Opera, Kuchtik in Dvořák’s Rusalka at Opera Monte-Carlo and Ramiro in Mozart’s La Finta giardiniera at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and the Opera of Rennes.
The title role in this production of Nabucco is taken by Russian baritone Serguei Murzaev. Mr Murzaev has been a soloist of the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow since 1991, and a permanent guest of the Mariinsky Opera in St Petersburg, and his repertoire includes roles in all the leading Verdi operas – such as Iago in Otello, Amonasro in Aïda, the title roles in Macbeth and Simon Boccanegra, Germont in La Traviata, as well as Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca, the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeni Onegin, and Ibn-Hakia in his Iolanta. Serguei Murzaev appears regularly at some of the world’s major opera houses including La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, and in Vienna, Venice, Paris and Monte-Carlo.
Mexican tenor Jesús León sings the role of Ismaël – a role he has also sung with Opera de Toulon. With a voice described by ConcertO.net as “exquisite …. both youthful and boyishly masculine”, and as “magnificent” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mr León’s 2017-18 season has included appearances as Il Duca in Verdi’s Rigoletto with Oper im Steinbruch, Edgardo in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor with Florida Grand Opera, Elvino in Bellini’s La sonnambula with Staatstheater Stuttgart, the title role in Roméo et Juliette with Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur, and Elvino in La sonnambula with Staatstheater Stuttgart. He will shortly be returning to the United States to sing Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata.
The Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur production of Nabucco will be led by Music Director György G. Ráth, with stage design by Jean-Christophe Mast, décor and costumes by Jérôme Bourdin, and lighting by Pascal Noël. Sung in Italian with French supertitles, Nabucco opens at Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur on May 18th and runs until May 24th. Tickets may be purchased online.
Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur
4-6, rue Saint François de Paule
06364 Nice CEDEX 4
Tel: +33 (0)4 92 17 40 79 (Box Office)
Lead image © RIVIERA BUZZ