A Babylonian despot takes the Jews into captivity. Rebuked by God, he releases them.
It seems simple enough, but it hasn't stopped opera directors from tweaking Verdi's transitional masterpiece set in 6th century BC towards modern analogies.
For director Gabriele Vacis at this year's Macerata Opera Festival, Nabucco is set in a parched Jerusalem desert where water is the most precious commodity and Babylonian walls are panels of 8000 plastic bottles. Nabuchodonosor is reincarnated as a pre-2003/Operation Red Dawn Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Levites are Guantanamo prisoners in orange jumpsuits and white yarmulkes. Add heat-packing suicide bombers and a horse.
While most directors exault patriotism and liberty of oppressed, displaced populations, Vacis focuses purely on conflict: "Not to reductively modernize Verdi's masterpiece, but it's one way of making it contemporary, like today where we see the eternal struggle between the oppressors and the oppressed." [...]