Verdi's early opera Nabucco (Nabucodonosor), about Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, was one of the most successful operas of the nineteenth century. The opera set him on the journey which culminated years later with Otello and Falstaff. The chorus, Va pensiero, depicting the Hebrews 'by the waters of Babylon' yearning for freedom, became iconic during the 19th century reunification of Italy. Today it is a famous best-tune. Verdi used a libretto rejected by Otto Nicolai, composer of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Nabucco was premired in Milan in March, 1842. The prima donna was Giuseppina Strepponi, who later became Verdi's mistress and second wife. When Nabucco attacks Jerusalem, success goes to his head: he declares himself a god, a blasphemy. He is struck by lightening and goes mad. His daughter Fenena joins the Hebrew cause. Her lover has jilted Abigaille, her elder sister, who is now intent on revenge. With the support of the priests, Abigaille seizes throne. She also destroys the evidence that she is not actually Nabucco's daughter. Fenena is about to be sacrificed with the Hebrews when the king rushes in, having recovered his wits. He saves her, and releases the Hebrews. Abigaille poisons herself. Short Guides to Great Operas written by Michael Steen, author of the acclaimed The Lives and Times of the Great Composers, are concise, entertaining, and easy-to-read books about opera. They are packed with useful information and informed opinion, helping to make you a truly knowledgeable opera-goer, and so maximising your enjoyment of a great musical experience. Each at around the price you pay for a standard opera-house programme, and available from all popular ebook retailers and ereaders, they are the perfect accompaniment to a night at an opera - whether that's at home, or at the opera house, or in the cinema for opera on screen, such as ROH Live, Met Opera HD Live, or Glyndebourne Festival in cinemas.
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