The 2020 Arena di Verona Opera Festival
Lyrical drama in 4 acts by Giuseppe Verdi
Directed by Arnaud Bernard
Unforgettable arias and rousing choruses
ACT I – Jerusalem
Nabucco, King of Babylon, has laid siege to the city of Jerusalem. Zaccariah, the High Priest, encourages the Hebrew people to take refuge in Salomon’s temple and assures them that it is still possible to negotiate for peace since the enemy’s daughter, Fenena, has been captured. Zaccariah assigns her to Ismael, nephew of Jerusalem’s king.
What the High Priest does not know, however, is that Fenena and Ismael have known each other for some time and are in love. Ismael had been Ambassador to Babylon and Fenena had saved him. In the same way, now, the young man is trying to free his beloved, but she is blocked by a group of Babylonian warriors dressed up as Hebrews and led by Abigail, Nabucco’s other daughter, a woman set on deception and with a lust for power. She, too, loves Ismael, but love for her is, above all, a political question, something to be used in exchange for her love. She accuses the young man of betrayal and reminds him that she has already offered him the kingdom of Babylon in exchange for his love. Notwithstanding, she is willing to renounce her revenge if Ismael leaves Fenena. He refuses saying he does not fear death but asks only for mercy on his people.
In the meantime, there is mayhem outside. Other Hebrews have taken refuge in the temple and when Nabucco raids it, Zaccariah makes an extreme attempt to save his people: he threatens to kill Fenena but Ismael blocks him and hands the young girl over to her father. At this, Nabucco gives orders to destroy the temple.
ACT II – A Cruel Fate
Inside the Palace at Babylon, Abigail finds the document which reveals that she is not Nabucco’s daughter, but an adopted slave. The High Priest of Belo tells Abigail that Fenena, who has been nominated her guardian by her father, is freeing the Hebrew prisoners and explains this is why the Babylonians are in revolt. He adds that he has worked out a plan: he has sent out rumours that Nabucco has died in battle so that the people acclaim her, Abigail, queen. In her obsession for power, Abigail is willing to do anything in order to take possession of the throne.
Zaccariah, having been taken prisoner by the Assyrians, enters another room of the palace followed by a Levite who bears the tablets of the Law. The priest prays. The Levites curse Ismael because he has betrayed them, but Anna, Zaccariah’s sister, defends him saying that, since Fenena has converted to the God of Israel, he has saved a Hebrew. The situation now becomes critical: Abigail enters and expects to take possession of the crown.
ACT III – The Prophecy
In the hanging gardens of the Palace of Babylon, Abigail lets the people worship her and she receives all the honours of the authorities of the kingdom. The High Priest tells her that the moment to eliminate all the Hebrews has arrived, starting with Fenena who has abjured the Belo cult.
Nabucco arrives, clearly confused. Abigail seizes this opportunity to intimidate him and make him sign the death warrant for the Hebrews. In a moment of lucidity, though, the King remembers that even Fenena has chosen to be a Hebrew. At this, Abigail rejoices perfidly. Nabucco now regains his memory and orders the woman to prostrate herself before him, after all, she is only the daughter of slaves. This is exactly where Abigail has wanted to lead him: she produces the document which proves her low origins and rips it up, enjoying every moment of her triumph. Then she has Nabucco arrested. At this point, Nabucco pleads with her to save, at least, Fenena, thereby recuperating through paternal love, the loftiness of spirit he had lost when he had compared himself to God. Abigail is delighted to see her adopted father humiliated and defeated.
In the meantime, on the shores of the Euphrates the Hebrews, chained and forced to work hard, think nostalgically about their lost homeland. Once more, Zaccariah consoles his people, urging them to have faith and prophesying their liberation. Babylon will fall, he says.
ACT IV – The Fallen Idol
Nabucco wakes up from a nightmare. Cries from outside are heard: the crowd weeps as Fenena is taken to the scaffold. He is powerless to do anything, he is a prisoner. He kneels down and asks for pardon for his arrogance from the God of the Hebrews and promises to convert. Divine grace restores his mental faculties. Having regained lucidity and the strength to react, he asks for a sword, grips it and orders the warriors who have remained faithful to him to follow him. The moment for the liberation of the Assyrian people has come and with it, Fenena’s salvation.
We hear a funeral march coming from the hanging gardens and the Hebrews condemned to death, are brought in. Zaccariah comforts Fenena. When Nabucco bursts onto the scene, the statue of the god Belo falls and the prisoners are freed. Nabucco urges them to build a new temple on top of the ruins of the temple he destroyed in Jerusalem. Abigail, on seeing her plan disintegrate, poisons herself and in her death-throes, asks Fenena and Jehovah to forgive her.ness from Fenena. Zaccariah blesses the King, redeemed by his new faith.
The 2020 Arena di Verona Opera Festival
Melodrama in 4 acts by Giuseppe Verdi
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
A timeless story of love and betrayal!
There is wind of war in Memphis. Ramfis, the High Priest and secret power of the State, informs Radames, captain of the guards, that the Ethiopians are about to invade Egypt. The idea of a war stimulates Radames, a man of ambition and courage. He hopes the god Isis will appoint him supreme commander of the army. He dreams of glory, and everything seems possible. War, for him, is also an occasion to appear valiant before the eyes of the woman he secretly loves: Aida, an Ethiopian slave in the service of Amneris, the Pharaoh’s daughter.
The Egyptian princess is also in love with Radames. Intuitive by nature, though, she immediately suspects she has a rival in this slave but prefers to conceal her jealousy with double cunning. Meanwhile, Aida’s heart is heavy with anxiety: her country is at war, yet at the same time, a love links her to a new world.
A fanfare sounds and a majestic choral scene overrides individual conflicts and aspirations. The leaders of the State meet to plan a war strategy. The King and Ramfis stand out as personalities who have no individual identity, personifying a power which crushes anyone who stands in their way.
After a messenger arrives to confirm that the Ethiopians have invaded under the leadership of King Amonasro, the Pharaoh announces that the Oracle has chosen Radames to be commander-in-chief.
Everyone is thrilled and urges him to return home victorious. Aida, in private, grieves: she hopes Radames will be victorious but at the same time, wants her father, Amonasro to destroy the Egyptian troops. Desperate, full of repressed anxiety, she prays to the gods for mercy.
The rite of investiture as commander-in-chief takes place in the Temple of Vulcan. Against a background of singing and dancing, a silver veil is placed on Radames’s head while Ramfis hands him the consecrated sword. The commander-in-chief has received a blessing, hence it is a just war albeit set on destruction.
Amneris is in her apartment preparing for Radames’s triumphant return. Her double-cross with Aida proceeds astutely. She is friendly to her but leads their conversation to the issue most dear to her, putting the slave’s feelings to the test: Radames, she informs her with studied indifference, has been killed in battle. Aida’s desperation at hearing this news now confirms Amneris’s suspicions. She reveals the deception and admits the truth: Radames is alive, but she, too, is in love with him. Furious, the Pharaoh’s daughter threatens revenge.
In Scene 2 private fates are forgotten as marches, dances, hymns and fanfares welcome the victorious army at Thebes. Radames enters at the end of the triumphal procession. The King promises to grant all Radames’s wishes. The Ethiopian prisoners file past, too and Aida recognizes one of them, her father Amonasro dressed as a simple officer who speaks on behalf of all the hostages, asking for clemency. Ramfis invites the King to show no pity while Radames requests that the prisoners be granted life and freedom. The King reaches a compromise: Aida and Amonasro will remain hostages in Egypt as guarantors of peace, all the others will be released. The marriage of Amneris to the triumphant Radames is announced. In an atmosphere of general repudiation, Amonasro meditates revenge. Aida and Radames are desperate. With private sentiments and great collective emotions manipulated and organized according to a fanatical ritual, any kind of conciliation is impossible.
At night, on the banks of the Nile, Amneris goes into the temple of Isis to pray. It is the eve of her wedding. Aida also arrives, secretly: she has an appointment with Radames. Filled with anxiety and nostalgia, Aida evokes the wide open spaces of her homeland, sings her love for her lost country, symbol of a promised happiness that has vanished.
Amonasro appears unexpectedly, and organizes an ambush against the Egyptian army. He has realised that Aida and Radames are linked and he takes advantage of his daughter’s feelings to work out a strategy. With deceptive sweetness, he promises her return home, glory and love but he poses a condition: her loved one must divulge the route of the Egyptian troops. Aida tries to oppose this but her father’s curse and her sense of guilt should her people be massacred lead her to giving in. Plagiarised, Aida faces the meeting with her loved one, explaining the reasons for which the only solution possible is her escape. She manages to convince him, using seduction and sensuality. Radames reveals the military plans she wants but Amonasro, inopportunely, appears and reveals his identity, frustrating everyone.
The situation worsens. Amneris, who has overheard the conversation, comes out of the temple, crying of betrayal. Amonasro hurls himself at her to kill her, but Radames blocks him, hands over his sword to Ramfis and has himself arrested. Aida flees with her father. Her dream of love is now shattered forever, on the banks of the Nile.
In a room of the King’s palace, Amneris is now in despair. Her pride hurt, she is torn between anger and love, between her wish to save Radames or to ruin him. In the end she decides to save him. She has him brought before her and begs him to prove his innocence: she will ask the King for mercy.
Radames refuses, claiming he has betrayed unintentionally and, having lost Aida, says he would prefer to die. He resists Amneris’s flattery, even when she reveals that Aida is still alive and she promises to save him if he renounces his love for the slave girl.
Radames is taken back to prison. The priests come to give their verdict. Ramfis’s accusations can be heard in the distance, in contrast with the silence of the accused followed by the diatribe of the holy ministers. The sentence arrives quickly: Radames is guilty and will be buried alive. Amneris seeks to save him, but her intervention is of no use in the light of the cruelty of the priests, the real bearers of power. Not even the Pharaoh’s daughter can oppose the repressive apparatus of the State, the implacable mechanisms of military and religious organisation.
In the Temple of Vulcan, the priests bury Radames under a tombstone. Aida, however, is already hiding there, having entered the crypt secretly, to die alongside her beloved. He is desperate; she sees the angel of death approaching and with it, eternal joy. The temple is now invaded by light and a defeated Amneris prays for peace. A single, sinister note sounds repeatedly. In the obscure underground where they are buried, Aida and Radames are immersed in a sea of musical light, heralding another world beyond this where they will enjoy the happiness that has been denied them on Earth.
The 2020 Arena di Verona Opera Festival
2 operas in one show by Pietro Mascagni and Ruggero Leoncavallo-Modern yet Timeless!
Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) and Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci (The Players) are becoming Italian opera’s most famous double act, but they were written independently. Cavalleria rusticana came first, its hugely successful premiere in 1890 doubtless an influence on Leoncavallo. His Pagliacci in 1892 was another triumph. The two works, each undeniable masterpieces of the verismo tradition of realism, share dramatic concision, melodic richness and an obsession with violent jealousy.
The 2020 Arena di Verona Opera Festival
Lyrical Drama in 3 acts by Giacomo Puccini-Puccini’s final and most musically adventurous opera!
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli
Turandot is the beautiful, yet cruel, daughter of the Emperor Altoum.
It is dusk in Peking. From the top of a wall of the Imperial Palace a mandarin announces Turandot’s edict to the people. She says she will marry whichever suitor of blue blood manages to solve the three riddles she devises. Those who fail will be decapitated. Like the others who have preceded him, the Prince of Persia has also failed the test and will be executed when the moon rises.
Among the crowd outside the palace, there is an old man who is accompanied by his loyal slave, Liù. He is Timur, ex- king of the Tartars, now in exile and practically blind. In the turmoil he falls to the ground. Liù pleads for help and a young man rushes over to them, pushing his way through the crowd. Lo and behold, it is Prince Calaf, Timur’s son. He, too, has escaped from their homeland and is travelling incognito so as not to arouse suspicion. The two men are overcome at meeting up again after so long. Timur recounts how Liù has helped him during his exile. The prince acknowledges his gratitude and asks her why she has been so dedicated to his father. She replies with disarming sweetness that one day a long time ago, his father had smiled at her and ever since then, she has secretly loved him.
Meanwhile, the crowd sadistically incite the executioner’s men, waiting with growing impatience for the moon to light up the sky, but when the Prince of Persia is finally brought to the scaffold, on seeing how young and handsome he is, their ferocity gives way to pity and they demand he be pardoned. Calaf curses Turandot for her cruelty but his shout quickly dies on his lips as he sees the princess appear on the balcony for a brief moment, time enough to confirm with an imperious gesture the death sentence. Struck by her beauty, he resolves to win her over and sets to work on solving the riddles.
Timur and Liù seek to dissuade him, and even the three Imperial Ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong try everything in their power to make him change his mind. But Calaf is determined. He urges Liù, who desperately tries one last time to convince him to give up, to take good care of his father. Then he spontaneously invokes Turandot’s name three times, striking the gong three times as he does so, thereby announcing his wish to be put to the test.
In a pavilion next to the Imperial Palace, Ping, Pang and Pong go over both the marriage and funeral protocols while they wait for the challenge of this unknown prince. Tired of Turandot’s cruelty and of the countless deaths her riddles have caused, the ministers relax and nostalgically recount memories of a happy life in the past and express the desire to return to their homes in the country. The buzz of preparation at the palace quickly brings them back to reality: the ceremony of the riddles, which will probably conclude with the umpteenth death penalty, is about to begin.
In the big courtyard of the palace, the old Emperor is sitting on the throne at the top of a monumental staircase surrounded by his whole court. Three times, in a feeble voice, he asks the unknown prince to renounce the challenge; three times Calaf stubbornly refuses. But then Turandot appears. Beautiful, unperturbed, she explains why she is so fierce and why she hates men. Thousands of years ago, one of her forebears was raped and killed by a foreign king and now, to atone for that crime of long ago, she puts her suitors to this cruel test, certain that none of them will ever have her. One last time she invites the young man to give up, but yet again he refuses and the test goes ahead.
The unknown prince solves the three riddles one after the other, giving the right answers: hope, blood, Turandot. The crowd cheers, acclaiming him the winner. Humiliated, the princess implores her father to save her from the arms of a foreigner whose name she does not even know, but the Emperor reminds her of the sacredness of the edict. At this point it is Calaf who frees her of this constraint on the condition that she also resolve a riddle: before dawn she must find out his name and where he comes from. If she manages, he is prepared to die.
It is night. In the palace gardens the voices of the heralds announcing Turandot’s decree can be heard: no one in the city must sleep until the name of the unknown prince has been discovered. Calaf waits fearlessly for dawn to break, sure that his love will win, in the end. The three ministers burst onto the scene and first with promises, but then with threats try to wrench the secret out of him. After his umpteenth refusal, a group of guards bring in Timur and Liù, beaten and bleeding; having seen them in the prince’s company, they suspect they know his name. Before Turandot, Liù declares that she is the only one who knows his name but out of love, she will not divulge it. The princess has her tortured but the slave does not give in. In admiration Turandot asks her where she finds so much strength. Liù replies that it comes from love and adds that soon, she – Turandot – too, will burn with the same flame. Then, afraid of betraying her secret under torture, she takes a dagger and stabs herself. Liù’s death shakes everyone deeply.
Calaf and Turandot remain alone together. Driven by the force of love, he approaches her resolutely. She tries to repel him but he manages to kiss her on her mouth and in so doing, it is as if a spell is broken: Turandot experiences an emotion hitherto unknown to her, a feeling capable of melting her heart of stone. She realizes she has loved him right from the moment she first set eyes on him. Only now does the prince reveal his real name: Calaf, son of Timur, and adds that, if she wishes, she can still send him to his death.
Shortly afterwards, before the Emperor, dignitaries and all the people, Turandot declares that she finally knows the name of the foreigner: his name is Love.
The 2020 Arena di Verona Opera Festival
Melodrama in 3 acts by Giuseppe Verdi-The original ‘Pretty Woman’
Violetta Valéry is giving a reception at her luxurious flat in Paris. She is a high-class kept woman,
protected by Baron Duphol. Not only is she beautiful, but her sensitivity and fragility add to her charm. In the midst of the dancing, she is presented to an admirer, Alfred Germont a young man of excellent family. He dedicates a toast to her and invites her to dance but Violetta is suddenly taken ill and cannot even reach the ballroom. She is already in the early stages of consumption and, apart from her illness, she is also suffering from moral unease, a feeling inside which distances her from the superficiality of the party. Alfred senses her mood. He confesses that he has loved her for a year, secretly. Violetta is touched by this, but warns him against loving her in any other way than as a friend. First, she rejects him, then she gives him a flower, inviting him to re-present himself the following day.
Once alone, Violetta reflects on her feelings. She is perturbed: a real love responsibly accepted could change her life. Then she rebels: the idea of change is sheer madness. She cannot give up her unscrupulous independence. Yet, her anxiety for freedom, counterbalanced by Alfred’s loving attention, tempts her to free herself from a knot which is forcing her to lie to herself.
Six months later, Violetta and Alfred are living together in a house in the country outside Paris. One day, Annina, a servant, tells Alfred that Violetta has sold all her possessions to finance their new life. His pride hurt, he leaves for Paris in search of more money.
No sooner has he left than George Germont, Alfred’s father, arrives. He begs Violetta, to give up his son, speaking insolently, accusing her of ruining him. She defends herself well, showing him the receipts of sales of her possessions, adding that she has never asked Alfred for money. The man instantly changes tone. However, he pleads with her to leave Alfred because the engagement of his daughter risks being compromised by the scandal of this relationship, unacceptable in the bourgeois mentality. The verbal abuse becomes more subtle. Germont senses that Violetta feels a sense of guilt and takes advantage of her weakness. He knows which points to touch, he knows what to say and how to say it. And he keeps on going: not having contracted marriage, her prospects in old age are uncertain, he says. Violetta admits her error. She has asked forgiveness, it’s true; maybe God will forgive her, but man certainly won’t. At the end, she decides to sacrifice her personal happiness in order to restore happiness to Alfred’s family. She has only one request: that when she is dead, Alfred know of her sacrifice. Geront is profoundly moved by this and he promises to grant her wish.
Violetta writes Alfred a letter of farewell, telling him she no longer loves him. She is distraught, she
cries and before leaving, lets out a scream of love. Alfred suddenly returns so she rushes out of the room, pretending to go into the garden. He is informed of his father’s visit during his absence and this worries him. Shortly afterwards, he reads the letter and learns that his love is returning to her past life in Paris. He is filled with jealousy and bitterness. His father consoles him and takes advantage of the situation, convincing him to return home. Alfred is beside himself; maybe he
has a rival in love. He hastens to find Violetta to get revenge.
The same evening, Flora Bervoix has a party at her home. The din of the masked dances starkly contrasts with the protagonists’ feelings of solitude and anxiety. Alfred enters and immediately starts gambling, and winning. Violetta arrives, accompanied by Douphol. Alfred challenges the Baron at cards and repeatedly wins, at the same time provoking him by making allusions that hurt. Dinner is announced and everyone leaves the room.
Violetta comes back immediately. She has given Alfred a nod and he understands that she wants to
talk. He comes in and listens, but it seems that dialogue is impossible: they are unable to communicate. They have hit a wall and she is forced to lie so as not to reveal the truth. She says she loves Douphol. On hearing this, Alfred loses control: in a fury of rage, he calls all the guests into the room and throws all his winnings at Violetta’s feet, asking the company to witness that in so doing, he has paid back the money she spent on him. Everyone is astounded by his lack of social aplomb. Violetta faints and Alfred is upbraided by his father for his heartless conduct. Alfred, contrite, is escorted out by his father, but only after he has been challenged in a duel by Douphol.
A month later, Violetta is ill in bed. She has little time left to live, Dr. Grenville informs Annina. Violetta is extremely weak: all she can do is drink some water, give instructions that what little money she has left be given to the poor, reread her letters. There is one letter in particular, from George Germont, telling her of Alfred’s return. Having wounded the Baron in the duel, he fled abroad but is now returning to Paris to see her and to ask forgiveness, having learnt of the sacrifice she made for him. But it is too late. Violetta looks at herself in the mirror and sees what a ghost of her former self she is. All she can do is say goodbye to her past dreams of happiness. Outside it is Carnival and life goes on as normal.
Momentarily, a ray of hope returns. Alfred rushes in and the two lovers exchange words of love and forgiveness. He promises to take her away from Paris where they’ll be able to live happily together, but Violetta is already too ill. The arrival of George Germont , now ready to accept Violetta as a daughter, and Alfred’s promise never to leave her again are too much. Violetta makes one final gesture of love: she gives Alfred a portrait of herself when she was young and beautiful, saying that is how she wants him to remember her.
For a fleeting moment she shows signs of recovery, only to fall back and expire.