Fathers, Daughters, & Death

by burgdoerferp

Family turmoil, specifically between a father and his daughter, is a common theme in the marvelous operas of Giuseppe Verdi.  In fourteen of the twenty-six operas composed by Verdi, the subject revolves around a complicated, intense, and incredibly dysfunctional father-daughter relationship.

As we will see next week, Nabucco tells the story of two daughters, one legitimate (Fenena), and one illegitimate (Abigaille), fighting for power, life, and love. Their father Nabucco first orders the execution of his daughter Fenena, while under the deception of Abigaille, and yet while he manages to regain sanity and save his beloved Fenena, his actions result in Abigaille’s suicide. Abigaille wreaks havoc on the life of her “father” as well, stealing his crown and announcing that he has been lost in battle in Act II. The powerful theme of a broken father-daughter relationship is extremely prevalent in not only Nabucco, but in many of Verdi’s other works as well, including Oberto and Rigolleto.

For one to understand why such a distinct subject is found in over half of Verdi’s operas, one must look at the famous composer’s biography. As a child, Giuseppe Verdi grew up with a younger sister, Giuseppa, who suffered from a severe mental disability. Her relationship with her brother, as well as with their father, was incredibly weak, and it unfortunately could not be strengthened before her death at the age of seventeen. Additionally, Verdi’s daughter, Virginia, passed away at the tender age of eighteen months, her death followed by that of her younger brother, Icilio, and Verdi’s wife, Margherita, within the next two years. Alone and mourning, Verdi found comfort in the composition of Nabucco. Although one cannot be sure of the validity of historical inference, it seems very plausible that the turmoil of Verdi’s family, and the absence of an observable healthy father-daughter relationship, led the famous composer to highlight these themes in his operas.

When at Nabucco next week, it will be interesting to observe how the musical pieces portray the intense emotion, or the affect as we discussed in class, behind the relationships between Nabucco and Abigaille and between Nabucco and Fenena. Additionally, I think the trailer below emulates this tragedy and family turmoil well, and it also is an exciting preview of what is to come next week!

*Information gathered about the father-daughter theme in Verdi’s plays was sourced from the following article, which is very interesting if anyone has the time to read the entire thing! J