The piece I wanted to share with you today is the famous "Va, pensiero", also known as the "Chorus of Hebrew Slaves" from the opera Nabucco (1842) by Giuseppe Verdi. The opera was written during the time of the Risorgimento, the social movement across the different states of the Italian peninsula towards securing reunification and freedom from foreign occupation. To this day, the chorus remains an "unofficial national anthem" of Italy. With your permission, I will include the full text below:
The chorus is clearly inspired by Psalm 137 ("By the Rivers of Babylon"). Verses 1-2 introduce the same premise: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof." All art being in dialogue with other art, this psalm had taken on a new energy, a new social force in Verdi's opera as a reflection of popular sentiment.
In our current day and age, it could be hard to relate to a story that is so ancient. It is impossible to truly apprehend the experience of 2500 years past. That is why, like Verdi, we could do well to think of this psalm (and this chorus) as a contemporary story. We see different versions of it, after all, rather frequently. We see it in South East Asia, in the Middle East, in Western Europe, in North America. At this point examples may be superfluous.
Today's recording was made in 2001 at the Metropolitan Opera. I find in this not only an artistic contextualization of social life, but also a new way of relating to Scripture. It fills me with hope that, at some point, we can have a world that is capable of the kind of solidarity that Verdi speaks of, that will allow us to transform its residual suffering into virtue.
Until next time, dear friends! I promise I will keep the next one light! As always, hope you are well these days.