Plácido Domingo Stars in a New Met Role, the Title Kind in Verdi’s “Nabucco” Conducted by Met Music Director Emeritus James Levine on “Great Performances at the Met”

The legendary Plácido Domingo brings another new baritone role to the Met as the title king in Nabucco, under the baton of his longtime collaborator James Levine on Great Performances at the Met Sunday, May 7 at 12 p.m. on PBS (check local listings). (In New York, THIRTEEN will air the opera at 12:30 p.m.)

Liudmyla Monastyrska is Abigaille, the warrior woman determined to rule empires, and Jamie Barton is the heroic Fenena. Russell Thomas is Ismaele, nephew to the King of Jerusalem and Dmitry Belosselskiy is the stentorian voice of the oppressed Hebrew people.

The opera premiered at Teatro alla Scala in Milan in 1842. The success of Verdi’s third opera, a stirring drama about the fall of ancient Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco), catapulted the 28-year-old composer to international fame. The music and Verdi himself were subsumed into a surge of patriotic fervor culminating in the foundation of the modern nation of Italy. Specifically, the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (“Va, pensiero”), in which the Israelites express their longing for their homeland, came to stand for the country’s aspirations for unity and that exciting era in Italian history, the Risorgimento, or “Resurgence.”

In a remarkable career spanning six decades in the theater, Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) composed 28 operas, at least half of which are at the core of today’s repertoire. His role in Italy’s cultural and political development has made him an icon in his native country. Temistocle Solera (1815–1878) was a professional librettist and, early in his career, a composer of moderate success. He also provided Verdi with the librettos for his first opera, Oberto, and the subsequent I Lombardi, Giovanna d’Arco, and Attila.

Solera’s libretto takes some liberties with biblical history, and the characters other than the title role are dramatic inventions. But the story as a whole stays close to events as they are related in Jewish scriptures: primarily Jeremiah, as well as 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Daniel, and the Psalms. The first part takes place around the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem in 586 B.C., with the remainder of the opera set in various locations in the city of Babylon.

Reviewing this revival, The Huffington Postobserved, “As always, Levine delivered a passionate and moving reading of the score…One can always be assured of a musically excellent night at the opera when Levine takes the baton. Apart from being one of our times greatest tenors, Domingo is also one of the best actors on any operatic stage… It is an emotionally and vocally difficult role, and Domingo sings a strong and poignant performance, especially in the demanding last act.”

And The New York Times wrote, “The smoldering, deliciously wild-toned soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska attacks the ferocious music for Abigaille, the Babylonian slave turned queen, as if she’s scaling a rock face with an ice ax. Russell Thomas, a tenor of gorgeously burnished power, and Jamie Barton, whose mezzo pours out like lava, are luxury casting as the star-crossed lovers, Ismaele (Israelite) and Fenena (sigh, Babylonian). Dmitry Belosselskiy’s capacious bass is well suited to the pronouncements of Zaccaria, the Israelites’ high priest. “Nabucco” is defined by its choruses…The company’s ensemble, under the direction of Donald Palumbo, rose to the occasion with massed yet transparent, shimmering singing. [Levine] led the entire performance with an energy that never felt pressured; the score surged inexorably forward, though with the confidence and, yes, maturity, to linger in lyrical moments, serene and calm.”

Bass-baritone Eric Owens hosts the broadcast.

Production: Elijah Moshinsky. Set Designer: John Napier. Costume Designer: Andreane Neofitou. Lighting Designer: Howard Harrison. Revival Stage Director: J. Knighten Smit.

Nabucco was originally seen live in movie theaters on January 7 as part of the groundbreaking The Met: Live in HD series, which transmits live performances to more than 2,000 movie theaters and performing arts centers in over 70 countries around the world. The Live in HD series has reached a record-breaking 22 million viewers since its inception in 2006.