It is very easy to see why 'Nabucco' was Verdi's first big success, and one of his better early-period operas (pre-'Rigoletto').
The story is not the most compelling or concise of his operas, some of it has obsolete and static drama, and Ishmaele and Fenena are very underwritten characters. However, it is notable for the father/daughter relationship between Nabucco and Abigaille, the meaty role of Abigaille and of course the glorious music (especially "Dio Di Guida", the big confrontation between Nabucco and Abigaille and one of Verdi's finest choruses in "Va Pensiero").
Continuing the 11th season of the interesting 'Metropolitan Opera HD Live' series, this is a decent production of 'Nabucco' that is neither among the best or worst productions seen of the opera, and an example of a production that has a huge amount to admire musically but could have done with more oomph dramatically. As far as the 11th season goes, it isn't as good as 'L'Amour De Loin', which was truly transfixing and something of a triumph after being underwhelmed by 'Tristan Und Isolde' and 'Don Giovanni' (impressed musically but lacked visually and dramatically).
Good things are many. The orchestra are first rate, the more powerful moments have great dramatic thrust and the touching ones affecting pathos. The chorus are rousing and passionate, "Va Pensiero" is both hopeful and heart-wrenching. James Levine's conducting is authoritative and sensitive, with the right amount of pomp, mystery and nuance.
Eric Owens is a warm and knowledgeable host, the video directing and HD are very nicely done and of the interviews by far the best is the discussion about longevity with Levine, Placido Domingo and Peter Gelb which was fascinating (the others weren't so illuminating).
While not in the best of voice, with some unsteadiness, strain and occasional support issues, Placido Domingo's Nabucco is generally one of his better Verdi baritone endeavours (his Simon Boccanegra was very good and his Rigoletto was a pleasant surprise but his Count DiLuna was disappointing). There is signs of the rich burnished sound and his musicality is impeccable, while he is a very committed actor, succeeding in wisely underplaying but also still inhabiting the character's descent into madness and his "Dio Di Guida" is heartfelt.
Liudmyla Monastyrska doesn't sound intimidated at all by the extreme vocal challenges of Abigaille (in the top 10 of the most difficult soprano roles in opera), singing with beauty and steel as well as tender subtlety and fiery intensity. This fearlessness also comes through in her acting. Jamie Barton is a moving Fenena, making much of little and credit is due for drawing a sympathetic character that one feels sorry for, and sings with a firm but gleaming beauty, while Russell Thomas shows no signs of strain, quite hefty in fact, and also tries to do much more with the little he has. Dmitry Belosselskiy is a dignified Zaccaria, but is the weak link vocally, with signs of fatigue and lack of projection.
For all these good things, not everything works. There are moments in the staging, "Va Pensiero" and the very intense but also tender father/daughter coming off best, but too much of the drama is too static tableaux-like and to be perfectly honest it was remarkable that Barton and Thomas managed to create characters worth caring about in roles underwritten in the first place but practically almost neglected. Nothing is distasteful or irrelevant, but this is an example of a traditional/straightforward staging that is not representative of how far acting in opera has come on over time.
The costumes are suitably nice and regal, the platforms and staircases are interesting and the lighting is atmospheric. However, one expects more grandeur and less of an over-produced clinical look to the set designs and the staircases and platforms eventually started more and more like obstacles for the singers.
On the whole, decent production but not a spectacular one. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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