Nabucco, Royal Opera, ROH, Covent Garden, June 2016Posted on 7 June 2016
Complementing the dramatic drive given to Verdi’s music by Maurizio Benini in the orchestra pit, and the terrific power the chorus delivered in this sixth century BC tale of Babylonian conquest and Hebrew captivity, the singers produced gripping vocal performances.
Placido Domingo sang with convincing strength as Nabucco, a powerful ruler torn and confused by events beyond his control. Apart from divine intervention, the source of his confusion is the elegantly forceful Ukrainian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska as his elder daughter Abigaille, a role she sang at the first outing of this production in 2013. Having wickedly taken the crown at the end of Act II after Nabucco is struck by madness, her mea culpa at the end of the opera was beautifully delivered.
For the Hebrews, John Relyea sang with fine bass authority as Zaccaria the High Priest, and Jean-François Borras — stepping in for the indisposed Leonardo Capalbo — gave wonderful tone and vocal colour to Ismaele, nephew of Jerusalem’s king. As his beloved Fenena, Nabucco’s younger daughter whom he first encountered when ambassador to Babylon, American mezzo Jamie Barton, 2013 winner of the Cardiff Singer of the World, produced lovely lyricism in her Royal Opera debut. The Act I trio between Ismaele, Fenena and Abigail was beautifully sung, as were supporting roles, with ROH Young Artist Vlada Borovko notable as Zaccaria’s sister Anna.
That Placido Domingo at the age of 75 can still deliver such a strong performance in this demanding role is remarkable, and it’s only a pity we see him in such a weak production. It is not easy to stage the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem followed by the Jewish exile in sixth century BC Babylon, but director Daniele Abbado does not even try. He simply converts everything to an anonymous mid-twentieth century setting where apart from the odd kippah and prayer shawl Hebrews and Babylonians look confusingly similar, and the costumes and wigs for Abigaille and Fenena render them almost indistinguishable.
A concert performance would have been better and still allow Abbado to overlay his minimalist staging with the inoffensive moving images that were sometimes too clever by half. But what really grated was the contrived placing and shuffling movement of the chorus that failed to provide a natural setting for Verdi’s hugely dramatic music.
This was the stage work that made the composer’s name after the failure of his second opera, and it deserves better.
Performances continue with cast changes for Nabucco, Abigaille and Ismaele on various dates until June 30, with a live outdoor relay to eight big screens on June 9 — for details click here.