Nabucodonosor (aka. Nabucco) Synopsis

The Story of Verdi's Third Opera

Building ruins


Giuseppe Verdi


March 9, 1842 - Teatro alla Scala, Milan

Setting of Nabucco:

Verdi's Nabucco takes place in Jerusalem and Babylon in 583 B.C. Other Verdi Opera Synopses:
Falstaff, La Traviata, Rigoletto, , & Il Trovatore

The Story of Nabucco

Nabucco, ACT 1

Within the walls of the great Temple of Solomon, the Israelites fervently pray to God for protection against the invading Babylonian army being lead by Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), King of Babylon. The Israeli High Priest, Zaccaria, enters the room with a Babylonian hostage - the young daughter of Nabucco, named Fenena. He assures them to trust in their God, for he will deliver them. Zaccaria leaves the room and instructs Ismaele, nephew of the King of Jerusalem, to watch over Fenena. When left alone, the young pair reminisces on how they first fell in love when Ismaele served as the envoy to Babylon. When he was held captive in prison, Fenena helped him escape back to Israel. Their conversation is interrupted when Fenena's older sister, Abigaille, enters the temple with a handful of disguised Babylonian warriors. Abigaille also loves Ismaele, and is outraged to see her younger sister with him. She gives Ismaele an ultimatum: he can either choose to be with Fenena and she will accuse her of treason, or, he can choose to be with her and she'll persuade her father not to harm the Israelites. Ismaele tells her that he can only love Fenena. Just then, a panicked group of Israelites rush back into the temple, followed by Nabucco and his warriors. Zaccaria grabs Fenena and threatens to kill her if Nabucco doesn't agree to leave the temple alone. Ismaele rushes to her aid and disarms Zaccaria. He brings Fenena to her father, and Nabucco orders his men to destroy the temple. Zaccaria and the other Israelites curse Ismaele for his bold act of treason.

Nabucco, ACT 2

Back in Babylon, Nabucco appoints Fenena as regent and guardian of the captured Israelites. Meanwhile, in the palace, Abigaille discovers shocking documents that prove her to be the child of slaves, not Nabucco. She envisions a future where Ismaele and Fenena reign over Babylon and cringes at the thought. She believes this is the reason why her father did not let her participate in the war. As she determines to exact revenge, the High Priest of Baal bursts into the room and informs her that Fenena has released the captured Israelites. He confides in her that he has always wanted her to become ruler of Babylon, and so the two spread a rumor that her father died in battle and Abigaille takes the throne for herself.

Within a room in the palace, Zaccaria reads through the tables of the law while a group of Levites assembles. When Ismaele enters, he is heckled and ridiculed. The group of men is silenced with Zaccaria returns with his daughter, Anna, and Fenena. He urges them to forgive Ismaele. He was only acting for the good of their country and fellow countrymen now that Fenena has converted to Judaism. Zaccaria's speech is interrupted by a soldier who announces that Nabucco has been killed. He warns Fenena to keep safe since Abigaille is determined to take the throne. Moments later, Abigaille herself enters the room, along with the High Priest of Baal, and snatches the crown from Fenena's hands. Then, to everyone's dismay, Nabucco enters the room and takes the crown for himself. He triumphantly declares himself king as well as their god. Zaccaria cures him for his blasphemy, and Nabucco sentences the Israelites to death. Fenena shouts to her father that she will die with them since she has converted. Nabucco, enraged, declares himself their god once more. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning strikes down Nabucco with a loud crash. Abigaille picks up the crown and declares herself ruler of Babylon.

Nabucco, ACT 3

Abigaille serves as the Queen of Babylon with the High Priest of Baal as her confidant. Among the famed hanging gardens, she is cheered and praised by the people of Babylon. The high priest brings to her a death warrant for the Israelites and her sister, Fenena. Before she can do anything with it, her father, now bumbling along as a shell of a man-made insane by the lightning strike, demands the throne. She laughs at the thought. As she's about to dismiss him, she thinks of something horrendous. She tricks him into signing the death warrant. When he discovers her trickery, he tells her she has no right to be the queen, because she was born to slaves and later adopted. He tells her he has proof and will show it to everyone. Again, she laughs at the thought and pulls out the documents. She tears the proving documents up as she mocks him. The only thing left for Nabucco to do is to plead for Fenena's life. Abigaille grows tired and impatient with him and orders him to leave.

On the banks of the Euphrates River, the Israelites long for their homeland after a long day of forced labor. Zaccaria delivers an encouraging speech, beseeching them to keep faith in God, for he will deliver them. This is when "Va, Pensiero," known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, is sung.

Nabucco, ACT 4

Within the palace walls, in a room where Abigaille had locked him away, Nabucco awakens. Having barely slept, he remains just as angry and confused as before. He looks out from his window and sees Fenena and the Israelites in chains as they are being lead to their executions. In his desperation, he prays to the Hebrew God asking for forgiveness and deliverance. In return, he will convert to Judaism and rebuild the holy temple in Jerusalem. His prayers are answered when his mind and strength are instantly restored. He breaks free from his room with the help of a few loyal soldiers and determines to set the Israelites free and rescue his daughter.

Nabucco rushes to the execution. As his daughter prepares for death and prays for admittance into Heaven, Nabucco stops the killings. He demands the release of the Israelites and proclaims he has converted to Judaism. He renounces Baal and states that the Hebrew God is the only god. Just then, the statue of Baal crumbles to the ground. He instructs the Israelites to return to their homeland where he will rebuild their temple. Abigaille is brought before Nabucco. In her guilt, she has poisoned herself. She asks for forgiveness and mercy from God, then dies. Zaccaria triumphantly shouts that Nabucco is now a servant of God and king of kings.