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Video projection design
Dimitri Platanias (26, 29/7/2023)
Tassis Christoyannis (27, 30/7/2023)
Yannis Christopoulos (26, 29/7/2023)
Konstantinos Klironomos (27, 30/7/2023)
Vitalij Kowaljow (26, 29/7/2023)
Petros Magoulas (27, 30/7/2023)
Ekaterina Semenchuk (26, 29/7/2023)
Olga Maslova (27, 30/7/2023)
Elena Maximova (26, 29/7/2023)
Marissia Papalexiou (27, 30/7/2023)
With the Orchestra and the Chorus of the Greek National Opera
Ticket prices: €25, €45, €55, €60, €85, €100
Disabled seats: €15
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Opera • Revival
Starts at: 21.00 |
The Greek National Opera is bringing its 2022/23 season to a close with Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco, conducted by Paolo Carignani and directed by Leo Muscato. This impressive production, first presented to great success in 2018, is returning for four singular performances –on 26, 27, 29, 30 July 2023 at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, as part of the Athens Epidaurus Festival– starring Dimitri Platanias and Tassis Christoyannis in the title role.
Nabucco is considered one of Giuseppe Verdi’s greatest operas. On a personal level, the work sealed his place as the most important Italian composer of the 19th century; on a broader, societal level, it came to signify the struggle for the unification of Italy. The opera is famous, among other things, for its celebrated “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”, which is held up by Italians as something of an alternative national anthem, since it expressed a collective sense of opposition to Austrian domination. But beyond this renowned chorus, the opera also features a series of musically complex roles –for baritone, soprano, and bass– that are most demanding to perform.
The plot concerns the Babylonian captivity of the Israelites imposed by King Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco). When he, in a display of arrogance, demands they all worship him as their god, lightning strikes him down. Once Nabucco recognises Jehovah as the one true God, he is restored to his senses, releasing the Israelites and giving his blessing for the union of his true daughter Fenena with Ismaele, the King of Jerusalem’s nephew. Abigaille, who usurped the throne of Nabucco, also turns to Jehovah by the end.
While Verdi was not the first composer to set texts of an intensely political nature to music (indeed fiery lyrics brimming with a sense of patriotism are to be found in a number of operas before his own), in his case it is the very music that makes all the difference – that gives his operas such a clear political tenor, imbuing them with the power to move the masses.
This staging of the work, first presented to great success at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in June 2018, was created by Leo Muscato, one of the most dynamic, up-and-coming opera directors at work in Italy today. As a director, he has proven himself tackling works (in the main) by Verdi and Puccini, and has presented hugely successful productions at La Scala in Milan, as well as at other leading Italian opera houses – in Rome, Venice, Florence, Turin, and elsewhere.
The director notes: “This production for the Greek National Opera is a dramatic and raw take on the work. By choosing a setting that is closer to our own times, the tragedy of the Israelites who were deported and coerced into forced labour by the Babylonians is made somehow reminiscent of the Holocaust that left such a mark on the first half of the 20th century. There is no desire to conform to historical accuracy here: the aesthetic signature of the sets and costumes aims to render an abstract place and time, so that attention is focused on the essence. To recreate different and distant environments, we use a fixed scenic system: a floor, five entrances, a few props, and video projections across the theatre’s three walls. In our production, the Babylonians are governed by a military regime: men and women wear uniforms – at times expedition uniforms, at others parade uniforms. Nabucco is their supreme commander, and the Babylonians adore him like a god who walks the Earth. But when he suffers a stroke, Nabucco falls from grace. The Babylonians turn their back on him, and the devotion he was once shown is now lavished upon Abigaille, the new queen who has seized power. Only a small group of soldiers, led by Abdallo, remain loyal to their former commander. Nabucco, shut away inside some kind of a sanatorium, is treated like he has lost his mind. In a moment of despair, he finds the strength to repent for all the pain he has caused and asks God to forgive him for having so despised the Israelites. In this production, the tragedy of deported and enslaved Israelites reminds us, on the one hand, of the tragedy of the Nazi concentration camps, and, on the other, seems a lot like the torture systems adopted at contemporary detention camps, such as the one at Guantanamo.”
The refined aesthetics and visuals of the production are forged by means of the pared-back sets by Tiziano Santi, the modern costumes by Silvia Aymonino, the imposing lighting by Alessandro Verazzi, and the impressive video projections by Luca Attilii.
The production is conducted by the Italian Paolo Carignani, one of the most important opera maestros in the world; Nabucco marks his first collaboration with the GNO. A Milanese graduate of the Conservatorio di Musica “Giuseppe Verdi”, he has appeared at major opera houses in Europe and further afield, including the Staatsoper Wien, the Berlin Staatsoper, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Royal Opera House in London (Covent Garden), the Opéra Bastille in Paris, and La Scala in Milan, and regularly conducts some of Japan’s most important orchestras.
The all-star cast features Greek and international soloists of global standing. Sharing the title role are two leading Greek baritones carving out successful careers beyond Greek borders: Dimitri Platanias, who has shined bright as Nabucco at the Royal Opera House in London (Covent Garden), the Bayerische Staatsoper, the Opera di Firenze, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (Valencia), the Staatsoper Stuttgart, and elsewhere; and Tassis Christoyannis, who has distinguished himself performing at some of the world’s most major opera houses. Platanias made his GNO debut as Alfio in 2004 before going on to perform a wide range of roles at the opera house, including Nabucco in 2018 – an appearance warmly received by audiences. Christoyannis has performed lead roles in GNO productions since 1989, a range that includes title roles in such major works of the repertoire as Don Carlos, Falstaff, Simon Boccanegra, and Wozzeck. Alongside his stage work, Christoyannis has been highly active in the studio –recording operatic works and more– and also composes music of his own.
Abigaille in the first cast is to be played by one of the great mezzo-sopranos of our times, Minsk-born Ekaterina Semenchuk, who has set herself apart with performances given at the world’s greatest opera houses and is recognised as a superb performer of Verdi roles. The second cast will be bringing us Mariinsky Theatre soloist Olga Maslova, a graduate of the Voronezh State Academy of Arts.
Appearing in the role of Zaccaria are the exceptional basses Vitalij Kowaljow and Petros Magoulas. Performing with them are the acclaimed soloists Yannis Christopoulos, Konstantinos Klironomos, Elena Maximova, Marissia Papalexiou, Vangelis Maniatis, Yannis Kalyvas, and Evita Chioti. Agathangelos Georgakatos serves as chorus master of the GNO Chorus. With the Orchestra and Chorus of the GNO.
Nabucco at a glance
The composer Giuseppe Verdi –the best-known composer of Italian Romanticism– was born in Le Roncole in northern Italy in 1813 and died in Milan in 1901. His earliest works were influenced by the revolutionary spirit of the time, echoing the struggles of small Italian states for liberation from the Austrians, fighting to be unified into a single sovereign country. The composer’s involvement in politics elevated him to the status of a national symbol –as an acrostic, “Viva, Verdi” meant “Viva, Vittorio Emanuele, Re D’Italia)– and in 1861 he was made a member of the first Italian Parliament. Verdi’s most famous operas are Nabucco (1842), Ernani (1844), Rigoletto (1851), Il trovatore (1853), La traviata (1853), La forza del destino (1862), Don Carlo (1867/1884), Aida (1871), Otello (1887), and Falstaff (1893). On an aesthetic level, Verdi’s music expressed the spirit of mature Romanticism and, on a political one, his compatriots’ desire to see Italy unified and free. In the midst of the historical, political, and social changes taking place in the 19th century, Verdi was the composer who contributed to that special moment in the history of music where high art was also popular art.
The work Nabucco is an opera made up of four parts. The libretto, by Temistocle Solera, is based on the play Nabucodonosor by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue (1836), and the ballet of the same title choreographed by Antonio Cortesi (1838).
Premieres Nabucco premiered at La Scala in Milan on 9 March 1842. Greek audiences first heard the opera on Corfu, at the Teatro di San Giacomo, on 28 September 1844. It is during those performances that the opera’s name was shortened from Nabucodonosor to Nabucco. There are records stating that an Italian opera troupe performed the work in Athens on 21 November 1851, and there followed performances at the Apollon Theatre on the island of Syros (1866/7) and the Apollon Theatre of Patras (1877/78). The opera entered the repertoire of the Greek National Opera (founded back in 1939) on 25 June 1959. The Catalan baritone Manuel Ausensi performed the title role in this production, presented at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, with the Greek soprano Maria Kerestetzi appearing as Abigaille and Totis Karalivanos conducting the musicians of the GNO.
Synopsis of the original
The story is set in Jerusalem and Babylon, in 587 BCE.
Part I: Jerusalem
The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco) is besieging Jerusalem. The Israelites flee to the Temple of Solomon to seek refuge, where the High Priest Zaccaria gives them courage and hope. He is holding Nabucco’s daughter –Fenena– hostage and entrusts her safekeeping to Ismaele, who is the nephew of Sedecia, King of Jerusalem. Fenena and Ismaele have met one another before and are in love. It is through their relationship that Fenena came to know about the God of the Israelites. The temple is stormed by Assyrian troops led by Abigaille – the eldest, war-loving daughter of Nabucco. She too is in love with Ismaele and promises to respect the rights of the Israelites if he agrees to run away with her. Nabucco arrives. Zaccaria threatens to kill Fenena, but she is rescued by Ismaele and returned to her father. The King and Abigaille hurl threats, while the Israelites curse Ismaele as a traitor.
Part II: The Unbeliever
Scene 1 We are now at the palace in Babylon, where it has been revealed that Abigaille is the daughter of slaves. Thus, in the King’s absence, Fenena is pronounced his replacement. Abigaille has stolen away the document verifying her humble lineage. The High Priest of Bel forms an alliance with her, spreading a rumour that the King has fallen in battle and demanding that she, Abigaille, ascend the throne in his place.
Scene 2 In another hall of the palace, Zaccaria studies the scriptures and prays for the power of second sight. He reveals that Fenena has converted to the Jewish faith and is, therefore, allied with the Israelites. News of the King’s death arrives. Abigaille challenges Fenena’s claim to the throne when, suddenly, Nabucco himself enters to command the Israelites and Assyrians to worship him as their god. The blasphemous king immediately falls to the ground, struck down by lightning. Abigaille seizes this opportunity to snatch the crown from his head and pays homage to the High Priest of Bel.
Part III: The Prophecy
Scene 1 In the famed Hanging Gardens, the Babylonians hail Abigaille as their ruler, while the High Priest condemns all the Israelites to death – Fenena first among them. Nabucco appears once more, dishevelled, raving like a lunatic, and laying claim to his throne. Abigaille convinces him to sign the death warrant for the captive Israelites. Realising what he has done, and on watching Abigaille burn the document showing her true, humble lineage, he begs for forgiveness.
Scene 2 On the banks of the Euphrates, the Israelites lament their lost homeland. Zaccaria prophesies the fall of Babylon.
Part IV: The Shattered Idol
Scene 1 In a room at the palace, Nabucco wakes from a fitful sleep to hear the procession leading Fenena to her death. As if visited by a vision, the King realises that the only real god is Jehovah and so prays to him, vowing to rebuild the Temple of Solomon. Brought back to his senses, he leads his still-loyal army on a quest to free Fenena and punish the unbelievers.
Scene 2 In the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Fenena and the Israelites pray. Nabucco appears and commands that the statue of Bel be destroyed. He liberates the Israelites, who head for their homeland, singing the praises of Jehovah. In the meantime, Abigaille begs Fenena for forgiveness and, at the very last moment, turns to the god of the Israelites. But Abigaille dies, having earlier taken a powerful poison.
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