Florida Grand Opera to Present Giuseppe Verdi's NABUCCO, Begin. 1/25

Verdi's Nabucco, which opens on January 25, 2014 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, has been credited with launching the famous composer's career. Last presented by Florida Grand Opera in 1981, it is set against the backdrop of the Israelites' plight in the face of Babylonian domination. Nabucco's biblical themes are intertwined with a passionate love story, political turmoil, and a compelling musical score.

Composed in 1841 as tensions ran high in Northern Italy from Austrian occupation, the opera also draws a parallel between the struggles of the Israelites and those of Verdi's compatriots. The Israelites' yearning for their homeland resonated with the Italians' increasing desire for a unified nation of their own, a movement which came to be known as the Risorgimento (Resurgence). This climate imparted to Nabucco a special resonance for Italian audiences, contributing to the opera's astounding success.

As the opera begins, Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), king of Babylon, prepares an assault on the Temple of Solomon where the high priest Zaccaria holds the king's daughter Fenena hostage. Both Fenena and her sister Abigaille, supposedly Nabucco's other daughter, love Ismaele, an Israelite leader who had been held captive in Babylon. He, though, loves only Fenena. Stung by his rejection, the strong-willed Abigaille vows revenge and manages to trick Nabucco into condemning Fenena to death. Abigaille secrets away a worrisome document that proves she is actually a slave, and usurps Nabucco's throne. A highlight of the opera is the conquered Hebrews mourning for their lost homeland in the famous chorus, "Va pensiero," which has arguably become the most popular choral number from operatic repertory. Nabucco descends into madness, but then converts to the Hebrews' religion and is restored to sanity and power, while Abigaille's insurrection is decisively put down.

Leading a stellar double cast, the role of Nabucco will be shared by two Hispanic baritones in their company debuts, Dario Solari and Nelson Martinez. A native of Uruguay, Solari has had a successful career in Europe in both concert and opera formats. Called "a revelation" by Classic Toulouse, he most recently performed with the Welsh National Opera and the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, where he made his debut in the title role of Nabucco in July 2013. Nelson Martinez, who has been praised as a dramatic Verdian baritone, began voice lessons in his native Cuba and is proud to return to Miami to debut this important role following his company debut as Jed in Mourning Becomes Electra. His voice has been called "rich and powerful" by Metro Pulse and showcased what South Florida Classical Review noted as "a dark baritone [that] elegantly spun bel canto lines," in Palm Beach Opera's recent production of Lucia di Lammermoor.

The soprano role of Abigaille, with its famously punishing high tessitura, has proven a challenge for many sopranos throughout the years. Embodying this dramatic character for Florida Grand Opera are two of the world's leading Abigailles today: sopranos Maria Guleghina and Susan Neves, each making her company debut. Guleghina, known as "a soprano with Verdi flowing through her veins," boasts an international career that has included numerous starring roles at Milan's La Scala and New York's Metropolitan Opera, in addition to most of the world's other leading opera houses. A native of Odessa, Ukraine, she became one of La Scala's leading sopranos early in her career, and has often appeared with the tenors Luciano Pavarotti and Plácido Domingo. The New York Times marveled at her "steely, brutally effective high notes" when she last sang Abigaille at the Metropolitan Opera in 2011.

Susan Neves, a Florida resident, has spent her career undertaking some of opera's most difficult roles and has won international acclaim as a major Verdi soprano. Her roles have included Abigaille in Nabucco, Lady Macbeth, Elizabeth in Don Carlo, Elvira in Ernani, Aïda, the Il Trovatore and La forza del destino Leonoras, and seven more, for an amazing total of 14 leading Verdi soprano roles. In addition to the Metropolitan Opera, she has appeared with Opera Bastille in Paris, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and the Vienna Staatsoper. She has recently added the title of Puccini's Turandot to her repertory, and has performed it internationally to acclaim.

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