When Verdi’s opera “Nabucco” hits the Kennedy Center in a few weeks, you know it’s going to be Big. The thing is the very definition of grand opera: a lavish 19th-century warhorse that clomps along for nearly three hours, swarming with doomed lovers, a mad king, thunderbolts from heaven, armies of supernumeraries and enough bloodletting to satisfy a “Dexter” fan. There’s a quasi-comprehensible plot set a zillion years ago in ancient Babylon, and the whole farrago is sung in a language that — correct me if I’m wrong — you don’t even speak. But don’t worry! As long as you’re not in the cheap seats in the back (and you did spring for the $300 box seats, right?) you can read your way through the evening in surtitles and ponder such arias as “I am ready to ascend the bloodstained seat of the golden throne” and “Go, maid, go and conquer the palm of martyrdom.” “Nabucco” — it’s gorgeous, it’s over the top, and it has absolutely nothing to do with real life. In short: It’s everything you want an opera to be.
Unless, of course, it’s everything that makes you wonder whether the entire world of opera is um . . . maybe not quite right in the head — in which case, you might want to drop by Arlington, where a feisty new company called UrbanArias is tossing out the antiquated conventions of Grand Opera and reinventing the form for 21st-century ears. Starting Friday, the group’s week-long festival at the Artisphere will showcase three new “mini-operas” by young composers that are about as far from “Nabucco” as you can get: short, fast-paced works that deal with modern life, are sung in English, and happily make do with minimal sets and costumes. They’re all being produced in the Artisphere’s intimate 125-seat Black Box Theater, and with seats priced only slightly higher than movie tickets, they’re starting to draw in an eclectic new audience — everyone from opera aficionados to people who wouldn’t sit through “Lohengrin” with a gun to their head.