Sunday, June 19, 2016


James Karas

NABUCCO by Giuseppe Verdi (music) and
Temistocle Solera (libretto)
Conducted by Maurizio Benini
Directed by Daniele Abbado
Designed by Alison Chitty

Nabucco           DIMITRI PLATANIAS
Abigaille           LIUDMYLA MONASTYRSKA                
Zaccaria           JOHN RELYEA
Fenena             JAMIE BARTON
Ismaele            LEONARD CAPALBO
Anna                VLADA BOROVKO
High Priest       DAVID SHIPLEY
Abdallo             SAMUEL SAKKER

Continues until June 30, 2016 at the Royal Opera House
Covent Garden, London

**** (out of five)

Verdi’s first successful opera may not be many people’s favourite but the current Royal Opera House production surely raises the work a few rungs up the ladder of appeal.

The usual formula applies, of course. Great singers, a first rate orchestra and a thrilling chorus. No, I am not forgetting the other ingredients.

Let’s start with the chorus. There are operas where the members of the chorus have a couple of numbers, walk on the stage, sing their piece and are shepherded off to the wings. Not in Nabucco.   Verdi composed some exhilarating pieces for them and I am not referring solely to the all-too-famous Va pensiero. The chorus is bunched up in the centre of the stage when they render the legendary number but it is a mourning piece and does not call for electrifying singing like some of the other choruses. The augmented Royal Opera House Chorus is worth the price of admission alone.
Scene from Nabucco. Photo:Catherine Ashmore
The title role is sung alternately by Placido Domingo, the grand old man of opera and the relative newcomer, Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias making his Royal Opera House role debut.  He gives a signature performance. From the arrogant king to the unhinged ruler and humiliated father, he achieves simply superb vocal resonance and emotional range. Just listen to his delivery of Deh perdona  (Have mercy on a delirious father) where the great king is reduced to begging for mercy for his daughter from a slave who scorns him.

The slave is Abigaille who believes she is Nabucco’s older daughter but discovers that her parentage is less exalted. She is angry, betrayed, passionate, vengeful, destructive and power-hungry. She also has voice-wrecking vocal demands where she must display power, lyricism and perform sudden leaps up the scales. The soprano who tackles the role must deliver a bravura performance and still live to have a long career. Monastyrska does all of that and is unforgettable.

Soprano Jamie Barton is Nabucco’s real daughter and the one who has snatched the tenor. She does not face the same demands as Monastyrska but she gives a praiseworthy performance. Tenor Leonard Capalbo gives a fine accounting of himself in the role of Ismaele.

Canadian bass John Relyea sings the role of the Hebrew High Priest Zaccaria. His deep voice resonates superbly and impressively. Listen to his magnificent rendition of Del future nel bujo   (In the obscure future), his rousing sermon to the Hebrews that stirs defiance against their enemies.

Director Daniele Abbado and Designer Alison Chitty have opted for a production that has modern overtones especially with the issue of displaced people and refugees. The costumes are modern and I felt that the direction given was “come as you are and bring your children for good measure.” That is not as bad as it sounds because ordinary dress is quite suitable and many of the refugees one sees on television are not dressed better or worse than what one sees on stage at the Royal Opera House. Children are very much a part of the refugee problem and having a few of them on stage was á propos.

The set consisted of rectangular rocks and sand for much of the production. There was judicious use of projections (designed by Luca Scarzella) to dramatize some aspects of the production.

The concept behind the productions seems sound but I am not sure that the execution of it matched the intent.

Benini conducted the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House with the vigour and discipline that the music and concept of the opera demand. It was an outstanding performance.

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