Opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi
libretto by Temistocle Solera
Jerusalem and Babylon, 585 BC
Defeated by Nabucco’s army, the king of Babylon, the Jewish people lament their faith. Their Great Priest, Zaccaria, appears before them, bringing along Fenena to the temple; he encourages the believers, urging them to pray: “have no fear, for he who prays will not perish”, he says, unveiling to them the true identity of the young woman who is accompanying him, who is no other than the daughter of the enemy king Nabucco, and who is now their prisoner.
Ismaele comes in and announces the arrival of the enemy’s troops. The young man has been in love with Fenena ever since he was the Jewish emissary at the court of the king of Babylon; he had been imprisoned upon the latter’s order, but had been helped by Fenena. It is now his turn to set the girl free. Their conversation is interrupted by Abigaille’s arrival. When she sees them, she becomes jealous. She longs for Ismaele’s love: “I want your love, so you can save your people”. Yet, her words make no impression upon the young man.
Nabucco arrives at the temple; Zaccaria threatens him that desecrating the place could cost him his daughter’s life. The king mocks him; Zaccaria points his dagger towards Fenena, but Ismaele prevents him from touching her. The Jews curse him and accuse him of betrayal.
The Jews have been taken captive and exiled to Babylon. Leaving for battle, Nabucco entrusts the kingdom to Fenena. Abigaille is tortured with jealousy; she overhears certain rumors: it seems that Fenena is not the king’s daughter, but only a slave. In reality she herself is the slave they are talking about, not Fenena. When finding out the truth, she bursts out with rage and calms down only when thinking of her sweet memories with Ismaele. The Great Priest tells her about Fenena’s decision to release the Jews.
Gathered in a hall of the palace, the prisoners pray with Zaccaria; then, they find out that Fenena converted to their religion. Abdallo brings them the news of Abigaille’s plots, of her wish to eliminate Fenena. There are rumors in town about the king’s death.
Accompanied by the guards and nobles from the royal court, Abigaille arrives to take the power and the crown from Fenena. All of a sudden, Nabucco shows up and forces Zaccaria and Fenena to submit to him like to a god. A bolt from the blue strikes him. Raving mad, the king mutters endless lamentations. “The Heaven have punished the desecration of God’s name”, Zaccaria says. Abigaille grabs the crown and runs away, threatening her enemies.
Abigaille has become queen with the support of the priests, who now asks her to sentence the Jewish prisoners, including Fenena, to death. Nabucco arrives, protected by the loyal Abdallo. Raven mad, Nabucco does not recognize his daughter.
Taking advantage of the situation, Abigaille persuades him to seal the death sentence of the Jews, among whom there are the two lovers, Ismaele and Fenena.
The Jewish prisoners bemoan their sad lot and lost homeland. Zaccaria encourages them, foreseeing their coming liberation and the downfall of Babylon.
Nabucco suffers in prison. He has terrible nightmares: he seems to hear the yelling of the crowd demanding Fenena’s death. Yet, now the dream has come true. Set free by the loyal Abdallo, he runs to his daughter’s rescue.
Fenena gets ready to being executed. Nabucco arrives just on time to stop the sacrificing ceremony.
Seized with remorse, Abigaille poisons herself. Breathless, she asks for forgiveness. She asks Ismaele to protect Fenena, and Nabucco to have mercy on the two young people. Her last words are: “You, My Lord, Who are the wisest, chase the bad away and do not curse me”.