Opera Philadelphia Opens 2013-2014 Season with Company Premiere of Verdi's NABUCCO Tonight
Opera Philadelphia opens its 2013-2014 Season in royal fashion this September, with the Company Premiere of NABUCCO. Verdi's landmark tale of politics and national identity will be presented in five performances at the Academy of Music, now through Oct. 6, with a FREE broadcast on a giant screen at Independence National Historical Park tonight, Sept. 28.
The 29-year-old composer gave the world his first work of profound musical genius with NABUCCO, which on its surface tells the Biblical tale of the defeat, enslavement, and exile of the Jews in Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. But to Italians fighting for their freedom from Austria, Verdi's first great opera was an inspiring call to arms. At the time of the opera's debut at La Scala in 1842, the whole of northern Italy was under Austrian domination. Insinuating that the plight of the ancient Israelites was comparable to that of his contemporaries in Milan, Verdi amplified the call for Italian independence. The "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves" (Va,pensiero), one of the most famous choral numbers in all of opera, became a national anthem of sorts and Verdi involuntarily became a leading figure in the movement toward a free, united Italy.
Director and set designer Thaddeus Strassberger taps into that patriotic fervor by setting this new co-production in 1842, creating an opera-within-an-opera by blending 19th century operagoers with the modern day audience. As a result, the Academy of Music is transformed into La Scala, the lavish Milan opera house on which it was modeled. In celebration of Verdi's 200th birthday and 2013 being the Year of Italian Culture in the U.S., Opera Philadelphia delivers a galvanizing, must-see production.
"Our very first NABUCCO is the ideal opener to what will be an exciting season with a broad range of operatic experiences that will surprise and delight audiences," said David B. Devan, General Director and President of Opera Philadelphia. "This is a gorgeously designed production that brings colorful life to Verdi's landmark opera while creating wonderful context for what it meant for 19th century audiences to experience NABUCCO at a time when Verdi was telling the story of the captivity of the Israelites as a protest against Italy's own dominance under Austrian rule."
Strassberger captured the essence of Verdi's world by researching the original set designs for the opera's 1842 premiere and basing his scenery on that original production. His team created some 25 grand, hand-painted backdrops crafted in the traditional style of Italian scene painting.
NABUCCO is an abbreviation of Nabucodonosor, or Nebuchadnezzar (605-562 BC), the king of Assyria who is remembered for the rebuilding of Babylon - and the creation of one of the wonders of the ancient world, its famous Hanging Gardens - as well as for the destruction of Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Inspired by historical events recounted in the Bible and the philosophy espoused by the prophet Jeremiah, librettist Temistocle Solera based his text on them, including relevant Scriptural quotations to preface each act. The personal love story and surrounding intrigue are depicted by fictional characters, lending a human dimension to the larger geopolitical forces in play. The opera is regarded as Verdi's first hit, carrying the composer's reputation across Italy, Europe, and the New World. After the premiere of Nabucco, Verdi wrote 16 opera in 11 years.
A number of international stars make their Opera Philadelphia debuts in NABUCCO. Romanian baritone Sebastian Catana stars as Nabucco, a role he has performed to enthusiastic audiences in Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Hungarian soprano Csilla Boross makes her company debut as the vengeful Abigaille, a role she performed to great acclaim at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma with Riccardo Muti, celebrating 150 years of Italian unity. Tenor Adam Diegeland recent Academy of Vocal Arts (AVA) graduate Margaret Mezzacappa portray the young lovers Ismaele and Fenena, and bass Morris Robinson (Aida) returns as Zaccaria, the high priest of Solomon's temple. AVA resident artist Musa Ngqungwana, a winner of the 2013 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, debuts as the High Priest of Baal. Music Director Corrado Rovaris conducts Verdi's dramatic, inspiring score in a production that beautifully showcases the talents of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus.
In addition to five performances at the Academy of Music with tickets starting at just $10, the season kicks off once again with a FREE, public, big-screen Opera on the Mall broadcast at Independence National Historical Park. Join Opera Philadelphia at this FREE, HD screening of Verdi under the stars, in the shadow of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, on Saturday, September 28 (6:00 p.m. pre-show; 7:00 p.m. broadcast). Registration for free tickets is required - visit operaonthemall.org to register.