Based in Babylon and Jerusalem Nabucco acts out one of the early conflicts with Jews, it starts with the devout Israelites in the Temple of Solomon, praying fervently for deliverance from the marauding Nabucco, King of Babylon.
The High Priest Zaccariah has a “hostage”, Fenena, who is Nabucco’s daughter. She is in love with the nephew of the King of Jerusalem, Ismael, but when her older “sister” the jealous Abigaille enters the temple ahead of Nabucco she states that she wants Ismael, and tells him that only she can get Nabucco
to leave the Israelites alone. As Ismael declares his love for Fenena, Nabucco enters but the quick thinking Zaccariah grabs Fenena and threatens her life if Nabucco does not leave, however Ismael grabs her back and hands her over to her father.
Nabucco then orders the temple to be destroyed and Ismael is cursed by the Israelites for his treasonable act in rescuing Fenena as they are rounded up as captives for the long journey to Babylon.
Once back in Babylon, Nabucco puts Fenena in charge of the Kingdom in order to return to his battles to expand his kingdom whilst Abigaille discovers documents stating that she is not Nabucco’s daughter.
The high priest of Baal finds Abigaille and tells her that her sister has released the prisoners and reveals his ambitions to be ruler – the two plot together and decide to declare that Fenena has committed treason and Nabucco has died in the fighting – Abigaille is to rule the kingdom.
A group of the Israelites collect for prayers but when Ismael turns up he is scorned and ridiculed however Zaccariah silences them when he produces Fenena who has now converted to Judaism and urges them to forgive Ismael. They are interrupted by a soldier who states that the King is dead and warns Fenena to be careful as Abigaille is determined to get rid of her.
Abigaille enters and confronts her sister with the accusation of treason and takes the crown from her – she orders the death of all Israelites just as Nabucco reappears – he takes back the crown and declares himself as God and King and is dramatically struck by lightning. She tricks him into signing a warrant for the Israelites death, he appeals that she spares Fenena and seeks the documents proving that Abigaille is not his child; she produces it and tears it into pieces.
Meanwhile the slave Israelites are cheered on by Zaccariah predicting that the evil reign will soon end with the help of God.
The bewildered Nabucco is locked in a tower and he sees the slaves being taken for execution along with his daughter Fenena, he prays to the God of Israel for help, seeking forgiveness and pledges to convert all his people. His head clears and he calls to his soldiers to break down the locked door, restore him to the throne and save his daughter.
Abigaille is smitten with remorse and kills herself with poison, confessing her sins and praying for God to forgive her. Nabucco confesses his conversion and all join in praises to the Lord.
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