Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Recordings

Richard Strauss: Notturno

Richard Strauss may be most closely associated with the soprano voice but this recording of a selection of the composer’s lieder by baritone Thomas Hampson is a welcome reminder that the rapt lyricism of Strauss’s settings can be rendered with equal beauty and character by the low male voice.

Bernarda Fink Sings Mahler Lieder

Bernarda Fink’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s Lieder is an important new release that includes outstanding performances of the composer’s well-known songs, along with compelling readings of some less-familiar ones.

Gergiev’s Das Rheingold

Das Rheingold launches what is perhaps the single most ambitious project in opera, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Hänsel und Gretel

This live performance of Laurent Pelly’s Glyndebourne staging of Humperdinck’s affectionately regarded fairy tale opera, was recorded at Glyndebourne Opera House in July and August 2010, and the handsomely produced disc set — the discs are presented in a hard-backed, glossy-leaved book and supplemented by numerous production photographs and an informative article by Julian Johnson — is certainly stylish and unquestionably recommendable.

Magdalena Kožená: Love and Longing

Recorded at a live performance in 2012, this CD brings together an eclectic selection of turn-of-the-century orchestral songs and affirms the extraordinary versatility, musicianship and technical accomplishment of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená.

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon

Once I was: Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon features an assortment of songs by Ricky Ian Gordon interpreted by soprano Stacey Tappan, a longtime friend of the composer since their work on his opera Morning Star at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Amore e Tormento

Alfredo Kraus, one of the most astute artists in operatic history in terms of careful management of technique and vocal resources, once said in an interview that ‘you have to make a choice when you start to sing and decide whether you want to service the music, and be at the top of your art, or if you want to be a very popular tenor.’ 

Rivals—Arias for Farinelli & Co.

In generations past, an important singer’s first recording of Italian arias would almost invariably have included the music of Verdi. 

Verdi at the Old MET

With celebrations of the Verdi Bicentennial in full swing, there have been many grumblings about the precarious state of Verdi singing in the world’s major opera houses today.

Italo Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre re

In the thirty-five years immediately following its American première at the Metropolitan Opera in 1914, Italo Montemezzi’s ‘Tragic Poem in Three Acts’ L’amore dei tre re was performed in New York on sixty-six occasions. 

Così fan tutte from DG

Few operas inspire the kind of competing affection and controversy that have surrounded Mozart’s Così fan tutte almost since its first performance in Vienna in 1790. 

Heart’s Delight: The Songs of Richard Tauber

During his career in film, opera, and operetta, Richard Tauber (1891 - 1948) enjoyed the sort of global fame that eludes all but the tiniest handful of ‘serious’ singers today.

Adriana Lecouvreur from Decca

Known principally for its two concert show-pieces for the leading lady, the success of Francesco Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur relies upon finding a soprano willing to take on, and able to pull off, the eponymous role.

Lawrence Brownlee’s Spiritual Sketches

It would be condescending and perhaps even offensive to suggest that singing traditional Spirituals is a rite a passage for artists of color, but the musical heritage of the United States has been greatly enriched by the performances and recordings of Spirituals by important artists such as Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo, Shirley Verrett, Grace Bumbry, Jessye Norman, Barbara Hendricks, Florence Quivar, Kathleen Battle, Harolyn Blackwell, and Denyce Graves.

Great Wagner Conductors from DG

As a companion to their excellent Great Wagner Singers boxed set compiled and released in celebration of the Wagner Bicentennial, Deutsche Grammophon have also released Great Wagner Conductors, a selection of orchestral music conducted by five of the most iconic Wagnerian conductors of the Twentieth Century, extracted from Deutsche Grammophon’s extensive archives.

Great Wagner Singers from DG

There could be no greater gift to the Wagnerian celebrating the Master’s Bicentennial than this compilation from Deutsche Grammophon, aptly entitled Great Wagner Singers.

Adding Movie Magic to The Magic Flute

What better way for Masonic brothers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Emmanuel Shikaneder to disseminate Masonic virtues, than through the most popular musical entertainment of their age, a happy ending folktale that features a dragon, enchanting flutes and bells, mixed-up parentage, and a beautiful young princess in distress?

L’Incoronazione di Poppea from Virgin Classics

Since its first performance at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo during Venice’s 1643 Carnevale, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea has been one of the most important milestones in the genesis of modern opera despite its 250 years of unmerited obscurity. 

Saverio Mercadante: I due Figaro

Though 2013 is the bicentennial of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, the releases of Cecilia Bartoli’s recording of Bellini’s Norma on DECCA, a new studio recording of Donizetti’s Caterina Cornaro from Opera Rara, and this première recording of Saverio Mercadante’s forgotten I due Figaro, suggest that this is the start of a summer of bel canto.

Christian Thielemann’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

Recording Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is for a record label equivalent to a climber reaching the summit of Mount Everest: it is the zenith from which a label surveys its position among its rivals and appreciates an achievement that can define its reputation for a generation. 

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Recordings

Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco
10 Apr 2006

VERDI: Nabucco

This 2001 Vienna State Opera production of Verdi’s first smash hit, Nabucco, serves as a textbook example of the “modern dress” production style, for better or worse – and probably, for both.

Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco

Leo Nucci, Maria Guleghina, Marina Domashenko, Giacomo Prestia, Miroslav Dvorsky, Choir and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Fabio Luisi (cond.)

TDK DVWW-OPNAB [DVD]

$32.98  Click to buy

Stage director Gunter Kramer begins with a pantomime scene under the overture – a strategy that can provoke immediate antipathy in some viewers. Here, a small group of children engage in solitary play, barely interacting. A ballerina twirls, one young boy plays with a puppet (Punch? Or Judy?) on a toy stage set, another boy with a rocking-horse, and a second young lady, in black, regards herself in a mirror, then shoves the ballerina aside and imitates her.

With the overture finished, the children leave, but their toys remain onstage, most conspicuously, the toy stage. It took two people – Manfred Voss and Petra Buchholz – to create the bare stage design of projected Hebrew script for a background, with a glass case holding the crown and a sword. The chorus crowds on, dressed in mid-century overcoats and hats, with baggage strewn about. This evokes the images of Jews being gathered for deportation, and although the validity of the historic parallel can be questioned, the dramatic intention is strong and provocative.

The camera direction (Anton Reitzenstein) here strives too hard to add movement to a static scene, and by picking on details and individual faces, dilutes the theatrical impact of the crowd scene. Giacomo Prestia delivers Zaccaria’s aria with a sizeable but unsophisticated instrument, and he will be the lesser of the five principals of the evening.

Absolutely stunning in a white shift, Marina Domashenko would steal the show if she had more to do as Fenena. She delivers her solo impeccably, and when involved in a scene acts a most sympathetic Fenena. She can be a bit blank when not given something to do.

Miroslav Dvorsky (called Miro in the credits) may make for a surprisingly Slavic and strapping nephew to the King of Jerusalem, but he sings with robust passion, and certainly more impressively than he did in San Francisco in Tosca a season or two ago.

Ultimately, a successful Nabucco comes down to the title role and its Abigaille, and here Vienna scores with Leo Nucci as the King of Babylon and Maria Guleghina as his ostensible daughter. In a dark blue double-breasted suit, Nucci makes a dramatic appearance, suddenly rising amidst the Jewish refugees. The director places a lot of the dramatic action on Nucci’s shoulders, including his reaction to an invisible lighting bolt from above (where else?). Nucci has, if Opera Today readers will allow, a sort of homely dramatic power that works well in this role, and his long solo in part four earns a passionate response from the audience, perhaps more for his commitment than the occasionally raspy delivery.

Glamorous in a gorgeous dark blue gown, not unlike those worn at operatic galas, Guleghina is caught at the height of her powers. Never a beautiful voice, she provides instead a viscerally exciting performance, where any imperfection is irrelevant to the final effect. And here she is able to make Abigaille’s final scene more than an obligatory afterthought, and truly cap the evening off.

Thanks to these singers, this Nabucco has strengths enough to deserve viewing; ultimately, they triumph over an inconsistent, even incoherent production. If the updating is to mid-20th century, why does Zaccaria take a swig from a very 1990s’ water bottle before an aria? Why are Zaccaria and Fenena visible in the shadows behind Abigaille in her solo scene? Couldn’t Nabucco indicate his determination to save Fenena’s life by something other than straitening his tie with grim resolve? When Abigaille’s henchmen ostentatiously set fire to the toy stage set, does that equate the theater with a holy temple? And when those same henchmen carry mirrors to reflect Abigaille’s image back at her, does that mean she is the young girl admiring herself in the overture’s pantomime? So the other children must be….oh no. Too far to go for too little reward….

In the end, viewers would do well to forgive the production its failings and admire the singers and one other vital element – the brilliant performance of the Vienna orchestra under the inspired leadership of Fabio Luisi. His leadership blazes away with urgent rhythms and strong yet stylish attack.

The Metropolitan Opera filmed a Nabucco around this time, also with Guleghina. That production, although nothing brilliant, at least has a rough-hewn handsomeness and much less to quibble over. Samuel Ramey’s Zaccaria scores way ahead over Prestia’s in Vienna; otherwise, the Vienna cast has the edge.

And then there are the not inestimable pleasures of a Verona production, which beggars description and must be seen to be disbelieved.

So for those able to ignore some missteps in the production, the best moments of this Vienna Nabucco earn the DVD a cautious recommendation.

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):