Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi

From the ancient tales of the Chaldeans (documented in the Old Testament) to the New Testament prophesies of the "Last Days" and right up to the present, the word "Babylon" has stood as a metaphor for evil and depravity in Western culture. The Bible says that after the great flood, the human race began anew. Naturally, everyone spoke the same language. But as the tribe grew in numbers, they became more and more depraved, forsaking God, and becoming a law unto themselves. They even tried to build a tower to reach God's throne. But the Bible says the Almighty frustrated their plan by "confounding their language, so that they could not understand each other" -- that is, He introduced the concept of ... "babble." With the foremen unable to talk to the laborers, the building -- the Tower of Babel -- was abandoned. You can read about it in the book of Genesis.

By the time we get to Revelation -- at the other end of the Bible -- after numerous encounters with real and metaphoric Babylonians, this perception of Babel is still going strong. We meet a woman who sits astride a scarlet beast with seven heads and 10 horns, covered with blasphemous names. She holds a golden cup filled with "the filth of her adulteries" and her identity is written on her forehead: "Mystery. Babylon the Great. The mother of prostitutes and of the abominations of the earth."

Now, for centuries, the idea of Babylon and its ever-impending fall has been just too good an image to pass up when talking about evil empires or corrupt governments. Of course, it also tends to evoke images of salacious appetites and lewd behavior -- all of which make Babylon a natural choice for opera, including the one we'll hear this week.

Remember the King named "Nebuchadnezzar"? In Italian, that translates as "Nabucco" -- as in the opera by Giuseppe Verdi. The Bible says that, even though this King was a pagan, God used him to punish Israel; He allowed Nebuchadnezzar's army to defeat the chosen people and carry them off into exile. Eventually, as the story goes, the Israelites repent for their misdeeds, are restored to the promised land, and Nabucco becomes a convert.

Naturally, Verdi did add a few plot twists to make the story a little sexier -- there was no love interest at all in the original Bible story! And, while it's not a Verdi score that you hear all that often, it's a real "hum-dinger" -- as you'll hear this week from the Metropolitan Opera.

But first, tune in At the Opera with Lou Santacroce. Dr. Michael Patrick O'Connor will stop by to compare Verdi's King Nabucco to the historical Nebuchadnezzar and to the one in the Bible. Lou also turns to our regular Verdi experts, Will Berger and Thomson Smillie, for more on why Nabucco is well worth your time.

That's At the Opera, thirty minutes before curtain-time from Houston.


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