Get swept away by Nabucco’s beauty

The production of Verdi’s opera is visually appealing and packed with talent

Jealousy, madness, a bloody battle, a desperate grab for power and a love triangle drive the action of Nabucco, one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most celebrated operas. There’s no shortage of drama, nor of talent, in the upcoming production to be staged at the Montreal Opera the last week of September.

Nabucco is an Italian opera based on biblical stories from the Book of Jeremiah and the Book of Daniel, and follows the struggle between warring Babylonians and Ancient Hebrews. The Babylonian king, Nabucco, begins the action by invading Hebrew territory to retrieve his daughter Fenema who is being held prisoner.

Over the course of the four acts, it becomes clear that Fenema has fallen for an Israelite named Ismaele and has converted to Judaism. Things are further complicated by the presence of Fenema’s sister, Abigaille, who is power hungry and jealous.

Director Leigh Holman has been involved with two previous productions of Nabucco, at the Opera Philadelphia and at the Florida Grand Opera in Miami. She explains that while she comes to this production as an old hand, that in no way lessens the excitement of the project.

“Even though some of the bones are the same, we always create a new show every time,” she says.

While the opera is technically set in biblical times, Holman explains that this production includes a second time period, and plays into historical elements from the time in which it was written, when Italy was under the control of Austrian forces.

“The concept of the show is that it’s the premiere of Nabucco at La Scala in 1842,” she says. “The show itself… is about Babylonians coming into Jerusalem and taking Hebrews back as slaves, so we can see the sort of parallel.”

The title role of the show is played by Italian baritone Paolo Gavanelli, who has incredible stage presence and does a beautiful job of anchoring the action onstage, which can sometimes appear chaotic.

Opposite him, Russian-born soprano Tatiana Melnychenko does an admirable job portraying the villainous and complex Abigaille.

The production, which runs two and a half hours, is visually appealing and features lavish costumes and intricately painted scenery.

While live surtitling is incorporated into the performance on screens above the stage, the action can get a little confusing so brushing up on the plot ahead of time is a safe bet.

Though opera may not be the most popular pastime among university-age students, Holman feels it has something very valuable to offer viewers. “I always say that if you can’t put something into words, or if the emotion is so big that you can’t express it in speech, you can do it with music,” she says. “In an opera like this where the drama is so intense, only music can make that drama rise to the surface.”

Nabucco will be playing at Place des Arts, Salle Wilfrid Pelletier Sept. 20, 23, 25 & 27 at 7:30 p.m. with tickets being priced as low as $20. For more information, visit

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