San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
Night at the Opera

Lyric Company revives Biblical epic 'Nabucco'

You may have seen posters for “Nabucco,” the opera playing the next two weekends at the National Theater, produced by the National Lyric Company. Perhaps you saw the image of a golden lion and thought, That looks interesting. But what on earth is it about?

The story concerns King Nebuchadnezzar II, the Babylonian king who scoffed at the Hebrew God and lost his mind for seven years. When you think of the Bible, he probably isn’t the first person to come to mind: Unlike more well-known figures, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t see burning bushes, he didn’t turn to salt, and he didn’t spend time inside a whale. His story of Bronze Age hubris is complicated, and even his name is hard to pronounce. So who would revisit this dusty episode in the Book of Daniel?

Giuseppe Verdi, it turns out. The Italian composer was so taken with Nebuchadnezzar that he created a four-act opera in 1841, and the production basically sealed his reputation as one of the great masters of the 19th century. Indeed, “The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves” is among the most famous and beloved arias in operatic history.

If you’re trying epic opera for the first time, there are some things you should know: The performance is long (four acts) and gigantic (130 musicians and singers). The libretto is in Italian – like most traditional opera – but the action should be clear enough to follow. The Bronze Age costumes and scenery promise to be spectacular, making full use of the refurbished National Theater stage. (The National Theater was originally constructed in 1897 with the intention of presenting opera and other genres, and the Lyric Company has continued the tradition to this day).

It’s not every day you get to see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. This weekend, you’ll have that chance.

“Nabucco” can be seen July 31–Aug. 10 at the National Theater, downtown San José. Thu. & Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m. ₡2,000-30,000 ($4-60). Info: National Theater website.

Contact Robert Isenberg at

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