Just in time for the High Holy Days, the Metropolitan Opera is bringing back its production of one of the few works of music that helped change history. “Nabucco” (Nebuchadnezzar), a wildly eccentric story inspired by the biblical Lamentations of Jeremiah, was Giuseppe Verdi’s first professional breakthrough, and it helped inspire the Risorgiomento, which ended the Catholic church’s political control of Italy as well the infamous Nuremberg-like laws imposed on Jews by Pope Pius IX.
In the opera, Nabucco’s two daughters both fall madly in love with a Hebrew prince, and Nabucco himself converts to Judaism after being struck by lightning. The chorus of Hebrew slaves, “Va pensiero” (“Fly my Thoughts on Golden Wings”), has become Italy’s unofficial national anthem. It is spontaneously sung at soccer games, and all sorts of other occasions.