22 June 2016 at 11.47am | Comment on this article
‘If you know opera, even on a tertiary level you’ve heard this piece’ says American mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton of the great choral tune ‘Va, pensiero’, also known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.
'Giuseppe Verdi wrote the music in a time of great oppression', she explains. ‘He felt the people of his own nation needed a voice’.
A tune about the oppression of Hebrew slaves in Babylon quickly became synonymous with the campaign for the reunification of Italy in the mid 1800s. In the years since it has been dubbed the nation's unofficial national anthem and become much-mythologized. Its influence has crossed borders too — it was sung fervently by East Germans during the partition of Germany during the Cold War.
‘The chorus was a way of putting that voice and the message of the story of the Israelites in Babylon into something the audience could connect with and feel politically more empowered', says Canadian bass John Relyea.
American tenor Leonardo Capalbo, who sings the role of Ismaele, agrees:
‘The chorus represents lost souls. Those unnamed faces that the story is really about'.
After each performance of the opera, Barton sees the audience leave the theatre with a ‘feeling of strength from that unity – it very much plays today how it was first written and performed for the first time.’
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Nabucco runs 6–30 June 2016. Tickets are sold out, although returns may become available.