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Elder conducts Lohengrin

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Premiere Recording: Mayr’s Telemaco nell’isola di Calipso (1797)

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Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco
16 May 2006

VERDI: Nabucco

The booklet somewhat proudly tells us that “a modern Italian opera-going public would likely walk out in horror if confronted with the avant-garde productions of many German opera houses.

Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco

Ambrogio Maestri (Nabucco), Andrea Gruber (Abigaille), Paata Burchuladze (Zaccaria), Nazzareno Antinori (Ismaele), Nino Surguladze (Fenena), Carlo Striuli (Il Gran Sacerdote), Paola Cigna (Anna), Enzo Peroni (Abdallo). Chorus Teatro Municipale di Piancenza. Orchestra Fondazione Arturo Toscanini conducted by Daniel Oren. Stage direction by Paolo Panizza.

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Italian audiences lack the patience to tackle the maverick inventions of modern experimental directors. Here the director shows scant regard for any such post-modern interpretation of the dramatic action.”

So true, but I’m still not sure I myself wouldn’t walk out of this hotchpotch production that, moreover, is so badly sung.

To quote another sentence from the book, “Panizza’s production is a veritable feast for the eye and firmly in the Italian mould”. Colourful it definitely is but I don’t believe that “Italian mould” is a synonym for ridiculous costumes and ugly make-up. The moment Maestri appears, one simply has to laugh. Due to his huge frame, he is already not a snappy dresser; but the blue costume with some wings and a most ridiculous giant headgear only make him look like a surreal Aztec wizard. His big arms are painted in red all along (a blood-thirsty tyrant? even during his powerless days?). Andrea Gruber looks like a demented Medusa, her hair entirely in long dreadlocks while her face is painted yellow. When she appears in the last act to ask for pardon and to die, the yellow is gone. This has probably a very profound reason which however escapes me. Nazzareno Antinore looks not too comfortable in his Roman toga, a few hundred years before the costume came in vogue. The armies of the conqueror mostly resemble science fiction soldiers out of Flash Gordon. The loveliest moment comes at the start of act 3 when for several minutes one thinks one has stumbled in a performance of “Cirque du soleil.” A quick look at the box reveals one isn’t wrong very much as the ‘participation of Sonics acrobatic dance group” is duly noted. Mr. Panizza’s sets are stylized realism though a big plastic (or metallic) horse for Nabucco’s entrance once more is not my idea of the Italian mould.

I hoped the singing would be the redeeming feature but alas that too is not the case. The best of the lot (the most beautifully costumed too) is Nino Surguladze who has a rich darkly coloured voice (at least on DVD); but Fenena is hardly a role that shows us a soprano’s true mettle. Tenor Nazzareno Antinori is painful to watch and even more painful to hear. Antinori was never a refined singer but now he is a very old looking bawler without a sense of style or without breath to show some style. The High Priest has a short role too but that’s no reason bass Carlo Striuli rambles along with a most vile sound. Paata Burchuladze sings with the well-known hollow sound, forceful delivery and the lack of a real supple legato that have been his trade marks for at least ten years. With Ambrogio Maestri things at first somewhat clear up. He seems to have a big lyric baritone somewhat reminiscent of Mario Sereni. Still the timbre is not always homogenous and he really doesn’t dominate the crowds, not withstanding his big frame. There is no incisiveness in his singing the way Gobbi used to show though the elder baritone maybe had half the voice of Maestri. The opera may be called Nabucco but it’s of course Abigaille who runs the show. Gruber is handicapped by her ugly make-up and probably by the stage director’s orders. She pulls faces and acts like a small child imitating Snow White’s bad stepmother. She probably produces a lot of noise but her main weapon is just snarling. There is no beauty or even expression in the singing, just shrillness.

Conductor Daniel Oren is somewhat too conscious of the camera and thinks he has to deliver as well. Dancing on the roster seems to be a specialty and he already takes a bow after the overture. He belongs to the faster the better school and this doesn’t always work out very well: especially in the concertati the singing is not always concerted.

Colour, sound and TV registration are fine.

Jan Neckers

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