June 14th, 2010
05:50 PM ET

Verdi's Jewish opera

CNN's Michael Schwartz attended a dress rehearsal for "Nabucco" — known as Verdi’s Jewish opera — in the Israeli desert and spoke with maestro Daniel Oren. Here’s some background from Schwartz:

The stars illuminating the velvet black night gaze down on the blue skull cap, or kippah, of the T-shirted conductor. Suddenly, he halts the dress rehearsal.

The opera holds its breath. Maestro Daniel Oren’s throat still hurts and the soft desert breeze pricks the back of his neck. Then the overture continues, smoothing his nerves. Verdi’s "Nabucco," under Masada — one of the Jews’ most revered historic sites — rolls on into the night.

Oren, an Israeli maestro, is closing a circle in life.

Twenty five years ago, he conducted "Nabucco" for the inaugural season of the Israeli Opera.

Now, he’s leading that same opera under Masada, the mountain fortress where hundreds of Jewish rebels are believed to have killed themselves in the 1st century rather than surrender to the Romans.

Oren’s outstretched hand motions the ascent to the stage of seven burning torches, symbolizing the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Yellow light scorches the folds of Masada.

In Italy, where Oren lives, the opera’s “Va Pensiero” is considered an anthem of freedom. In the country where he was born, it evokes a different emotion. As an observant Jew, Oren prays every day to return to Jerusalem.

Horses, camels, chariots, soldiers, slaves, toyal family and high priests take their cue from the skipping baton in Oren’s right hand.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Culture & Science • Judaism

soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. James

    The opera has an Italian nationalist subtext. What is today Italy was, at the time Verdi wrote "Nabucco," part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and was struggling for independence. The famous chorus "Va pensiero" contains the line "O mi patria, si bella...perduta!" (O my homeland, so beautiful....lost). Verdi's name itself became a nationalist acronym: Vittorio Emanuele, Rei D'Italia. It was reported that the crowd attending Verdi's funeral in 1901 spontaneously burst out into that chorus.

    June 21, 2010 at 2:13 am |
  2. Kreczk

    So the Israeli slaves were dancing in support of being Israeli slaves. Wow. Jews are just so wonderful, even being their slave is an honor. I think the Italians should have an opera celebrating the Roman victory over the Israelis religious nut cases.

    June 20, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  3. Rosalie Gottlieb

    I was teaching a choral group the Va Pensiero. I was fasinated with the music feeling the wayl the prisoners had with their chains on. The whole opera is wonderfull.

    June 20, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  4. Dee

    SU, the word is PHILISTINES or in Hebrew Pilishtim, NOT Palestinians. Nice try.

    June 20, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  5. Greg

    People like you need to learn not to let your feelings about Israel turn into antisemitism. Or were you already antisemitic and that's your real reason for supporting Palestine?

    June 17, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  6. Liz

    That's right, you're too smart for those tricky Jews, John! Next thing you know they will claiming they have a right to protect themselves from Palestinian suicide bombers and rockets landing on their Kindergartens! Don't fall for it!!!

    June 16, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  7. Lars Johnson

    There's never been a jewish skeleton found at Massada even though the myth is that thousands committed suicide there. On the other hand they have found remains of Roman soliders. Maybe the Romans should be having symphonies there.

    June 16, 2010 at 10:07 am |

    No the opera is about the death of Hebrews in their ancient homeland- Palestinians, Nazis, Islam, were not yet invented.

    June 16, 2010 at 9:08 am |
    • SU

      Marigo, Palestinians lived in Palestine long time before Jews stepped in! read your book check what their answer was when Moses told them to enter Palestine with him, if you dont know it I will state it here" they told Moses "you and your God go and fight the Palestenians , they are strong men , we are staying here"

      So stop telling the world lies.

      June 19, 2010 at 1:49 am |
    • Dee

      SU, the word is PHILISTINES or in Hebrew Pilishtim, NOT Palestinians. And I believe through DNA their descendants are the Lebanese. Nice try.

      June 20, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Dee

      Sorry it was the Lebanese-Phoenician connection I meant.

      June 20, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  9. Josef

    The masada happened. You know what also happened the murder & destruction of the Cainites by the jews. the exsodus may have happened but not because the jews were being held in slavery. There was no slavery in Eygpt. the pyramids were built by Eygptians, not jewish slaves. Stop believing in myths.There was no Moses, Abraham , Noah etc, these are myths, nothing more. I've always wondered why jewishs myths are accepted as truth, while others are taken as just that myths.

    June 16, 2010 at 8:59 am |
    • Jay

      I see you are an expert in Moses etc., or are you really old and you were there in the meetings and saw things first hand?

      June 17, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  10. simon


    What are you talking about? Are you saying the events at Masada did not occur 2000 years ago? Are you some
    kind of revisionist historian with an agenda? Are you an expert in archaeology? Are you suggesting perhaps that Israelis,
    in all their nefarious machinations, created time travel technology, travelled through time and changed Josephus' account of the events at Masada?

    June 16, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  11. Pentazoic

    He lives in Italy, yet prays daily to "return to Jerusalem."

    So what's stopping him from getting on the next El Al flight?

    June 15, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  12. Nicky

    If you missed Nabucco this year, plan for Aida at the same place next year (June 2011)...

    June 15, 2010 at 2:24 am |
    • Anna

      Back to the topic: Nabucco at Massada was an incredible OPERA performance at a unique location, not a history lesson or political agenda. I don't even know why it's under a religion blog!!!! What happened to appreciating art for its own sake?

      June 16, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  13. Ana Codruta Zandelis

    The performance was one of the best I've ever seen. Massada is the "natural" background Nabucco was written for.
    The singers, chorus, orchestra, costumes .... and not at last, the logistics, everything was at the highest international standards!

    June 15, 2010 at 2:03 am |
  14. Amira Kidd

    This is very interesting, it's like an opera with in an ongoing opera. It's funny how art is able to weave it's way through the most difficult situations and environments.

    June 15, 2010 at 1:17 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.