mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Nabucco Night At The Opera

Last night was opera night; leaving the safety and sophistication of glamorous Queens I ventured over to the neo-Assyrian art palace at Lincoln Center where the Metropolitan Opera put on one of the greats: Verdi’s youthful masterpiece Nabucco.  Loosely, very loosely, built on the story of the fall of the Temple and the Hebrew captivity in ancient Babylon, Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzer in the English Bible) is full of all the things that people who hate opera love to hate.  The loose plotting, the cavalier treatment of history, the sentimentality and the over the top theatricality: it is all there.

But what is also all there is the glorious music that poured from the brain of the then twenty-something composer and has electrified the world ever since.  Nabucco is not the greatest of all operas, or even the greatest Verdi opera, but it contains some of the greatest music ever created.

Listen to the chorus of the Hebrew slaves, “Va Pensiero.”  And read the words in translation:

Hasten thoughts on golden wings.
Hasten and rest on the densely wooded hills,
where warm and fragrant and soft
are the gentle breezes of our native land!
The banks of the Jordan we greet
and the towers of Zion.
O, my homeland, so beautiful and lost!
O memories, so dear and yet so deadly!
Golden harp of our prophets,
why do you hang silently on the willow?
Rekindle the memories of our hearts,
and speak of the times gone by!
Or, like the fateful Solomon,
draw a lament of raw sound;
or permit the Lord to inspire us
to endure our suffering!

New York, God knows, has its problems, but while music like this can be heard in it, the city has not completely lost its way.

For those of you planning trips to the city that never sleeps, here is a link to the schedule and the ticket site for the Metropolitan Opera.  And for readers not planning any trips this far, or pinching pennies in these tough times, the live HD broadcasts across the country are excellent value and a glorious treat.  Here is a link to the schedule; every opera on it this year is a spectacular show.

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  • Bryan

    The Met is doing Wagner’s Ring series in the spring. While I don’t think you can see Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, or Siegfried by themselves (only as part of the four-opera series), there are still tickets available for showings of Götterdämmerung from February to May.

    I promise I don’t work for the Met, I’m just going to see Götterdämmerung in February and cannot contain my excitement.

    Va Pensiero is one of my favorite pieces of music, and it’s wonderful to see an opera-related piece by WRM.

  • Buce

    Lampedusa (he of The Leopard) thought this sort of thing the very reason why Italian politics was so poisonous: it deluded the Italians into thinking that opera was like life. Just sayin’.

    BTW The Met Siegried was in HD theatres yesterday. I assume there will be a rerun, perhaps next Wednesday, maybe also later in the winter.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      While criticizing opera’s impact on Italian politics, let’s not even think about German politics and Wagner!

  • Luke Lea

    That was rather grand!

  • Mike Anderson

    “The loose plotting, the cavalier treatment of history, the sentimentality and the over the top theatricality: it is all there.”

    From this description, Life is less like the Novel, and more like the Opera!

    Although I do object that you omitted Deceit, Treachery, Passion, Murder, Mayhem, Revenge, and the occasional voluptuous mezzo-sprano. All in all, quite manly entertainment.

  • dearieme

    “the live HD broadcasts across the country”: available too in Furrinland.

    Mind you, Wagner, wild horses, etc.

  • Jack

    Opera companies should do more early Verdi. Sure, the plotting and scenarios are sometimes silly, but the music is supremely energetic and fantastic.

  • Roy

    I’m a fan of Verdi, but with respect to one throw away line, New York has far from lost its way.

    Via Meadia might profitably spend some time at the biomedical research centers at Columbia and Rockefeller Universities, just as a start.

    New York can boast of an extraordinary wealth of scientific talent and discovery, which it exports, via patents and cadres of experts trained within it facilities, all over the world.

    Just to cite one example, it was at Columbia where Richard Axel, the Nobelist, discovered how to splice human DNA into bacteria, turning them into miniature biologic drug factories.

    That is the staple technique in biotechnology. There are hundreds and hundreds of similar examples.

    Axel is also a great opera fan; you can see him at the Met occasionally.

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