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Emet m'Tsiyon

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ismail Pasha Hires & Endorses Pro-Zionist Composer, Giuseppe Verdi

UPDATED with link to performance 12-15-2014
CORRECTION to musical terminology 12-3-2018

Giuseppe Verdi wrote his famous opera Nabucco in 1841. It was first performed at the La Scala in Milan in 1842. The opera contains the following lyrics in the famous chorus Va, Pensiero. These lines recognize the Jews' yearning for their homeland and their right to it.

O Thought, go on gilded wings;
Go, alight on slopes and hills
Where the sweet breezes of our native soil
Waft scents warm and soft!
Greet the banks of the Jordan,
And the thrown down towers of  Zion.
O my homeland so beautiful and lost!
O memory so dear and fateful!

O Golden Harp of prophetic seers,
Why do you hang mute from the willow tree?
Rekindle memories in our breasts,
Speak to us of the times that were!
O Being of the same order as Salem [Jerusalem] for the Fates,
Bring forth a sound of raw lament, 
O, may the Lord inspire you  with a harmony
Infused with the virtue of suffering!
[translation by Eliyahu m'Tsiyon]

Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate;
va, ti posa sui clivi e sui colli
ove olezzano tepide e molli
l'aure dolci del suolo natal!
Del Giordano le rive saluta,
di Sionne le torri atterrate.
Oh, mia patria sí bella e perduta!
Oh, membranza sí cara e fatal!

 Arpa d'or dei fatidici vati
perché muta dal salice pendi?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi,
ci favella del tempo che fu!
O simile di Solima ai fati
traggi un suono di crudo lamento,
o t'ispiri il Signore un concento
che ne infonda al patire virtu!
Nabucco, one of Verdi's most famous operas and his first great success, was  named    after Nebuchadnezzar [Nabucodonosor, in Italian, later shortened to Nabucco]. This was the Babylonian king who made a ruin of Jerusalem and later exiled the Jews to his own country where
"By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat, sat and wept, as we thought of Zion.
There on the poplars we hung up our lyres. . . "  [Psalm 137, NJV translation]

This chorus, called both Va, Pensiero and the Hebrew Slaves Chorus, is not only of great beauty, but has clear Zionist overtones. Its sympathy for the exiled Jewish people is impressive. Today's rising Nazi-like anti-Israel movement would consider it definitely "politically incorrect." But the 19th century was different. The Muslim ruler of Egypt of the time, Khedive Ismail, loosely under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire, admired Verdi as a great composer and commissioned him to compose an opera to mark the opening of the newly built Cairo opera house. The result was Aida, considered a great opera like Nabucco. Note that Aida was first performed in 1871. Nabucco was first performed in 1842, about 30 years earlier. So Ismail was well aware of Nabucco and its theme sympathetic to Jews when he commissioned Verdi. Muslim rulers today, as well as the frenetic politically correct Western partisans of Arabs and Muslims, would likely boycott him. Zionism did not exist as a movement by that name at the time, although Jews were drawn to Zion, to Jerusalem, from many parts of the Jewish Diaspora. They were already a majority in the Holy City by 1853, if not before.

Ismail's grandfather, Muhammad Ali [Mehmet Ali], and his father Ibrahim had ruled over Jerusalem for about ten years up to 1840 and treated the Jews there and their fellow dhimmis, the local Christians, rather well by the Muslim standards of the time, which is one of the reasons that they are called "modernizers." Moreover, the Quran foretells the return of the Jews to their land [sura 17:104] and contains some other Zionist-like verses. Of course today Muslims avoid quoting those verses. In addition, in the early period of the Zionist movement, some leading Egyptians who opposed British rule were sympathetic too to Zionism. Moreover, in Isma`il's time, neither Muslims/Arabs nor Westerners had heard of a "Palestinian people." Nor did Arabs and other Muslims call the country "palestine" then. They saw it as part of Greater Syria [ash-Sham]. Nor did fanatic partisans of the Arabs, whether Western or Arab, nor other Muslims, demonstrate riotously against the play's performances in Cairo or elsewhere. Nor was Verdi boycotted. Nor was Jewish history denied. Times have changed.
 Here is a background account of the composition of Aida:
Verdi was commissioned to compose Aida by the ruler (Khedive) of Egypt, Isma’il Pasha for the then enormous sum of 150,000 [gold] francs.  The commission was not to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal but rather to mark the opening of a new opera hall in Cairo.  The libretto was written by Antonio Ghislanzoni based on a plot developed by Auguste Mariette, the foremost Egyptologist of the era.  He based the plot on his historical research of the Upper Nile valley.  The première was planned for January 1871.  However it was delayed by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and finally took place in Cairo on December 24, 1871 where it was met with enthusiastic acclaim.  Aida’s European première took place at La Scala in Milan on February 8, 1872.  Given its success in Cairo and Milan, Aida productions were quickly mounted throughout Italy in the following years.  It was premièred in New York in 1873, in St. Petersburg in 1875, and in both Paris and London in 1876.  [see here]
Here is background on Nabucco:

. . . an Italian-language opera in four acts composed in 1841 by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto by Temistocle Solera. The libretto is based on the Biblical story and the 1836 play by Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois and Francis Cornue, although Antonio Cortese's ballet adaptation of the play (with its necessary simplifications), given at La Scala in 1836, was a more important source for Solera than the play itself.[1] Under its original name of Nabucodonosor, the opera was first performed at La Scala in Milan on 9 March 1842. [here]

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12-15-2014 Here is a good performance of the Hebrew Slaves Chorus (Va, Pensiero).
NOTE: The name Solyma for Jerusalem is used in Greek and probably comes from Salem which in ancient Hebrew was probably pronounced Sholem [Shawlem-- the vowel qomets had a different sound then than in modern Hebrew. It was like how the Ashkenazim and Yemenites traditionally pronounced it.]. In Greek we also have the name Hierosolyma for the city, hiero meaning holy. So the Greeks may have seen the name as meaning Holy Solyma.


  • "It was like how the Ashkenazim and Yemenites traditionally pronounced it"

    From what I've read, shalom was actually pronounced shalam before the "Caananite vowel shift".

    I'll try to find the source.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:55 AM  

  • THE Greek name for Jerusalem, Hierosolyma, that qamets or qawmets [aw as in English saw and raw] was pronounced aw or o at the time when Greeks started using Hierosolyma or Solyma. Nowadays qomets/qamets is pronounced as English "ah". But there is another "ah" vowel in Hebrew, the vowel called patahh. Why would Hebrew have two vowel names for the same sound [ah]?? Most likely the qomets changed to qamets.

    Let me know what you find out from your source.
    Best Wishes, Shalom

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:19 PM  

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