Verdi’s Nabucco at Valencia’s opera house Palau de les Arts, starring Plácido Domingo, was a sold-out performance.
You can have any review automatically translated. Click the Google Translate button (“Vertalen”), which can be found at the top right of the page. In the Contact Page, the button is in the right column. Select your language at the upper left.
Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi. Dramma lirico in four parts. 1842. Libretto by Temistocle Solera. First performance at the Teatro alla Scala, Milan, on 9th March 1842.
Valencia, Palau de les Arts, 2nd December, 2019.
Plácido Domingo: Nabucco
Anna Pirozzi: Abigaille
Alisa Kolosova: Fenena
Riccardo Zanellato: Zaccaria
Arturo Chacón-Cruz: Ismaele
Dongho Kim: High Priest
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
Jordi Bernàcer: Conductor
Thaddeus Strassberger: Director
Viva Verdi! Yes, but …
The premiere of Verdi’s Nabucco at Valencia’s opera house Palau de les Arts was a sold-out performance, just as the following performances on December 5, 8, and 11. And this had one good reason: Plácido Domingo returned to his home land on his current “tour de force” through Europe. Just a few days before, he had sung a highly praised concert at the energy-sapping venue Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. But he seems to have a hidden energy store.
One evening – two stars
His portrayal of the Babylonian King Nabucco was the highlight of the evening. Even though his massive beard and the heavy historic costume were for sure a burden, he was the impersonated King. His transformation from the strong cruel ruler to the miserable deranged prisoner to the remorseful humble believer in God was so credible that one forgot to sit in a theatre. His voice was in sublime shape that evening. He outsang the strong chorus and delivered an overall brilliant performance, using his unique ability to play with voice colours and shades. Especially impressive was his big aria “Dio di guida” – which he sang lying flat on his belly. Everyone who has ever sung him-/herself knows how difficult this is, since one needs one’s diaphragm to support the voice. But the (almost) 79 years old power house mastered this challenge so perfectly that he got minutes of showstopping applause, and loud cheers from an excited premiere audience.
Not less impressive was Abigaille Anna Pirozzi. She has developed very well over the last few years, since I had heard her for the first time. Pirozzi possesses an extremely strong voice, which she handles with such an ease that it is a joy to listen to, from the first to the very last note. Most impressive were her pianissimi. The clarity of the tone was fascinating, and – although her timbre is totally different – in some moments reminding me on a young Montserrat Caballé. She passionately acted as well and was an equal counterpart to the leading Nabucco.
Zaccaria was sung by Riccardo Zanelatto. He has a pleasant, warm voice with a rich, creamy timbre. Especially in the middle range it was fine and well-placed. His low notes, though, lacked some power. At times, they were hardly audible. He had fine moments, in which he impressed, but he could not get to the same very high level as the two main characters.
Fenena, Nabucco’s daughter, was the young Russian mezzosoprano Alisa Kolosova. She made the best of her role, convincingly acting and singing flawlessly. Had she not had such an extraordinarily strong opponent in Anna Pirozzi this evening, she would have definitely beaten another, less strong Abigaille with her performance.
Ismaele was Arturo Chacón-Cruz, and even though he had this minor role, he left a very good impression. His high notes very clear and strong came out easy. I have heard him already several times in different houses, and sometimes he gets in danger to push them too much, but not so on this premiere evening. He made the most of his role and got well deserved extra applause.
The minor roles, Dongho Kim as High Priest of Baal, Mark Serdiuk as Abdallo and Sofia Esparza as Anna, were cast with talented fine singers, too.
Jordi Bernácer conducted very singer-friendly and in a vivid tempo. Sometimes I missed more soft, or colourful passages, but was still very satisfied with his performance.
The chorus, one of the main “characters” in Verdi’s masterpiece, had a slight mishap at the first entrance, but recovered quickly and added a strong support to the whole cast. However, due to some “staging ideas”, they did not get the deserved attention.
A hybrid staging
And here we are … Stage director Thaddeus Strassberger left me with a conflict. On the one hand, he had created a very realistic scenery: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Ishtar Gate, colourful costumes of Assyrians, simple costumes with traditional long beards of the Hebrews – a traditional, beautiful scenery (good job by costume designer Mattie Ullrich). But as if traditional staging in a “Regietheater-polluted” opera world would not be enough “progressive”, he thought he had to add “something new”, and came up with the old idea of a “play in a play”.
The traditional staging of Nabucco was just a vehicle for the “political message” he wanted to transport. The side-story played in Milano in 1842, the year of Nabucco’s world premiere at La Scala and representing that event. The Austrian “suppressors” in k.u.k. (“imperial and royal”) uniforms were conquering the stage during the overture and at the beginnings of each act. The Habsburg rulers were sitting in boxes (in La Scala style) left of the stage, watching the opera from there – and sometimes distracting the audience from the main scenery.
At the beginning I still thought, “Ok, I can live with that, I will just concentrate on the main stage and not pay attention to the side wing. But it was impossible, especially when the two groups were intermingled with each other. During the famous “Va pensiero” chorus there were not only the Hebrews on stage (in the very background, mind you!), but also Italian citizens from the 19th century, some women sewing Italian flags, men drinking in a bar, angrily gesturing towards their suppressors in the boxes and on tables on the right side of the stage. What a mess – that distracted one’s attention. The effect that Verdi’s operatic “superhit” usually creates in the audiences, got totally lost. Great job, director, thank you for messing it!
Also at the end, when the singers came out for their curtain calls, Strassberger again misused that (for the singers) important scene. While the audience was paying tribute to the singers’ great achievements and special cheers for Domingo and Pirozzi in particular, Pirozzi had to stop the clapping and cheering right on its climax by a gesture. Then she angrily threw flowers, which the Habsburg women had thrown onto the stage from their boxes, back to the women, her colleagues had to do the same. And she started singing an a capella version of “Va pensiero” – and the chorus and her colleagues joined her, while supernumeraries took the Italian flag onto the stage, and some others came up with two banners, showing the expression “Viva Verdi”. Yes, Viva Verdi, we agree, but … why do they have to mess up his work then?
This production of Washington National Opera, in co-production with The Minnesota Opera and Opera Philadelphia, has already been showed in Los Angeles a few years ago, where it was (no surprise for a Hollywood-inspired, but less opera-experienced audience) a success. Also in Valencia people think to like it, even though I heard statements during the intermission that clearly showed me they had no idea what this “beside scenery” should represent.
For me, these Emperor’s new clothes were just another sad try to “modernise” something that works best in its original form.
Gabi Eder (5-12-2019)