Greek National Opera stages revival of Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’

Scene from Greek National Opera’s production of ‘Nabucco’ at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
© Dimitris Sakalakis

Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate (Fly, thought, on golden wings) – the opening words of one of the most beautiful and well-known choruses in the world of opera. It’s the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco, sung as they gather on the banks of the Euphrates River, lamenting the loss of their fatherland.

As part of the Athens Epidaurus Festival, Greek National Opera stages a revival of Italian director Leo Muscato’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, featuring a cast of international artists, led by Italian conductor Paolo Carignani in his debut appearance for GNO. Performance of the title role is shared between baritones Dimitri Platanias and Tassis Christoyannis – making his debut in this role. Nabucco’s daughter Fenena is sung by mezzo-soprano Elena Maximova who shares the role with mezzo-soprano Marissia Papalexiou. Tenors Yannis Christopoulos and Konstantinos Klironomos share the role of Ismaële – nephew of the King of Jerusalem – and Abigaille is sung by soprano Ekaterina Semenchuk or Maria José Siri.

Nabucco – a four-act opera composed in 1841 – is regarded as the work which established the reputation of Guiseppe Verdi as a composer, and to which Verdi himself referred as “the opera with which my artistic career really begins”. It was also linked to the end of his life, for when Verdi died in Milan in 1901, the crowd of over 300,000, which had gathered for his solemn funeral procession, joined a massed choir to sing the emotional Va, pensiero.

The Italian libretto, by Temistocle Solera, was based partly on the biblical story of the conquest of the Hebrews by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar (or Nabucodonosor in Italian – Nabucco in its shortened form), as catalogued in the books of Jeremiah and Daniel. Solera also based his libretto on an 1836 play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue, although it’s believed that he was influenced to a greater degree by Antonio Cortese’s 1836 balletic adaptation of the play. The opera – under its original name, Nabucodonosor – was premiered at La Scala on 9th March 1842.

Dimitris Platanias in the title role of GNO’s production of ‘Nabucco’ © Aris Messinis

Nabucco opens in the year 586 BC, with Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and his army at the gates of Jerusalem, which is about to fall to them, forcing the Jewish people into exile from their homeland. Against the backdrop of these historical events, two plots unfold – one romantic, one political. The romantic plot involves Fenena – Nabucco’s daughter, who has been held hostage by the Hebrews – her jailer, Ismaële, with whom she’s in love, and Abigaille, her supposed half-sister, who is also in love with Ismaële. On the political front, Abigaille’s jealousy of Fenena is heightened when Nabucco appoints Fenena as regent in his absence, and Abigaille discovers that she’s not Nabucco’s daughter at all, but was sold to him as a slave.

Following Dimitri Platanias’ highly acclaimed debut at the Royal Opera Covent Garden in the title role of Rigoletto, The Times referred to him as “… the stunning Greek baritone …”, Richard Morrison further writing: “I have rarely heard the title role sung with such gloriously sustained tone and line, or such thrilling power….”. Opera houses in which he has also performed include the Bayerische Staatsoper, Teatro La Fenice, Oper Frankfurt, the Osterfestspiele Salzburg, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia and San Francisco Opera.

A dramatic scene from GNO’s producton of ‘Nabucco’ © Aris Menissis

Tassis Christoyannis spent several years as a member of the Greek National Opera before joining the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Düsseldorf. Now freelance, he sings principal baritone roles in Italian, French and Russian works at opera houses and festivals in cities such as Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Geneva, Brussels, Amsterdam, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Frankfurt and at Glyndebourne.

Roles in Elena Maximova’s repertoire include Rosina in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Polina in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Siebel in Gounod’s Faust, Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Olga in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, the title role in Bizet’s Carmen and Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther. She has also appeared at the Berlin Staatsoper, the Semperoper Dresden, the Teatro Comunale in Florence the Palau de les Arts in Valencia and the Teatro alla Scala Milan.

Dimitris Plantanias sings the role of Nabucco © Aris Menissis

Marissia Papalexiou started her career as a member of the GNO Chorus. As a soloist she has sung in works such as Richard Strauss’ Die Frau ohne Schatten, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Verdi’s La traviata, Bizet’s Carmen, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Offenbach’s La belle Hélène, as well as works by young Greek composers in concert.

Having appeared regularly at the Salzburg Festival, Ekaterina Semenchuk has performed in operas including Verdi’s Il trovatore, Aida, Macbeth, Don Carlo and La forza del destino, Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, Bizet’s Carmen, Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, Mussorgsky’s Boris Godunov, Tchaikovsky’s La Pique Dame, Prokofiev’s War and Peace and Wagner’s Die Walküre.

Dimitris Plantanias takes centre stage in the GNO production of ‘Nabucco’ © Aris Menissis

Uruguayan soprano Maria José Siri is said by MTG Lirica to have a “Sumptuous, torrential voice that knows how to bend to the colors and dynamics required in the score at the right moment”. With a repertoire that ranges from bel canto to verismo, she has performed at Teatro alla Scala Milan, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Wiener Staatsoper, the Staatsoper and Deutsche Oper of Berlin, Bayerische Staatsoper, Hamburgische Staatsoper and Semperoper Dresden.

Yannis Christopoulos has collaborated with all the important orchestras of Greece, and since 2011 has been a permanent member of the Greek National Opera Soloists, performing roles of the classic and modern repertory. Most recent operas in which he has appeared include Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, Bellini’s La sonnambula, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Gounod’s Faust, Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann and Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus on the south-west slope of the Acropolis © Dimitris Sakalakis

Following Konstantinos Klironomos’s performance of Macduff in Verdi’s Macbeth last year, culture website IOCO wrote: “His warm, beautiful-sounding, heroically colored and powerful tenor was another highlight of the evening”. His repertoire includes the roles of Cavaradossi in Puccini’s Tosca, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Don Alvaro in Verdi’s La forza del destino, Il Duca di Mantova in Verdi’s Rigoletto, Roméo in Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette, the title roles in Mozart’s Idomeneo and La Clemenza di Tito and Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.

Multi award-winning Italian director and playwright Leo Muscato last produced Nabucco for GNO in 2018. Other productions this year include three operas – Händel’s Agrippina at the Bonn Opera House, Vinci’s Li zite ‘ngalera at Teatro alla Scala in Milan and a revival of the 2021 production for the Bonn Opera House of Rossini’s La Cenerentola for Teatro Lirico Calgari.

Among productions which Italian conductor Paolo Carignani has recently led are Bizet’s Carmen in Beijing, Puccini’s La bohème at the Metropolitan Opera, Verdi’s La forza del destino for Deutsche Oper, and Aida and La traviata for Royal Danish Opera. Maestro Carignani returns to GNO next season to lead a new production of the double bill of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.

Paolo Carignani leads the Orchestra, Soloists and Chorus (Chorus Master Agathangelos Georgakatos) of the Greek National Opera in performances of Verdi’s Nabucco at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus from 26th to 30th July. Tickets can be bought from the GNO Box Office and online via

All photographs were taken at the time of the 2018 production

Information sourced from:

GNO programme notes

Verdi, An Autobiographical Sketch 1879 (Werfel and Stefan 1973)

Budden, Julian (1973), The Operas of Verdi, Vol. 1. London: Cassell Ltd, 1973. pp. 89–112. ISBN 0-304-31058-1 (via Wikipedia)

Artists’ websites

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