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 Performances

Il turco in Italia at the Aix Festival

Twenty years ago stage director Christopher Alden introduced Rossini’s then forgotten comedy to Southern California audiences in a production that is still remembered. In Aix Alden has revisited this complex work that many critics now consider Rossini’s greatest comedy.

First Night of the BBC Proms : Elgar The Kingdom

The BBC Proms 2014 season began with Sir Edward Elgars The Kingdom (1903-6). It was a good start to the season,which commemorates the start of the First World War. From that perspective Sir Andrew Davis's The Kingdom moved me deeply.

Le nozze di Figaro, Munich

One is unlikely to come across a cast of Figaro principals much better than this today, and the virtues of this performance indeed proved to be primarily vocal.

Winterreise and Trauernacht at the Aix Festival

That’s A Winter’s Journey and A Night of Mourning for metteurs-en-scène William Kentridge (South Africa) and Katie Mitchell (Great Britain), completing the clean sweep of English language stage directors for the Aix Festival productions this year.

James Gilchrist at Wigmore Hall

Assured elegance, care and thoughtfulness characterised tenor James Gilchrist’s performance of Schubert’s Schwanengesang at the Wigmore Hall, the cycles’ two poets framing a compelling interpretation of Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte.

Music for a While: Improvisations on Henry Purcell

‘Music for a while shall all your cares beguile.’ Dryden’s words have never seemed as apt as at the conclusion of this wonderful sequence of improvisations on Purcell’s songs and arias, interspersed with instrumental chaconnes and toccatas, by L’Arpeggiata.

Nabucco at Orange

The acoustic of the gigantic Théâtre Antique Romain at Orange cannot but astonish its nine thousand spectators, the nearly one hundred meter breadth of the its proscenium inspires awe. There was excited anticipation for this performance of Verdi’s first masterpiece.

Saint Louis: A Hit is a Hit is a Hit

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis has once again staked claim to being the summer festival “of choice” in the US, not least of all for having mounted another superlative world premiere.

La Flûte Enchantée (2e Acte)
at the Aix Festival

In past years the operas of the Aix Festival that took place in the Grand Théâtre de Provence began at 8 pm. The Magic Flute began at 7 pm, or would have had not the infamous intermittents (seasonal theatrical employees) demanded to speak to the audience.

Ariodante at the Aix Festival

High drama in Aix. Three scenarios in conflict — those of G.F. Handel, Richard Jones and the intermittents (disgruntled seasonal theatrical employees). Make that four — mother nature.

Lucy Crowe, Wigmore Hall

The programme declared that ‘music, water and night’ was the connecting thread running through this diverse collection of songs, performed by soprano Lucy Crowe and pianist Anna Tilbrook, but in fact there was little need to seek a unifying element for these eclectic works allowed Crowe to demonstrate her expressive range — and offered the audience the opportunity to hear some interesting rarities.

The Turn of the Screw, Holland Park

‘Only make the reader’s general vision of evil intense enough … and his own experience, his own imagination, his own sympathy … will supply him quite sufficiently with all the particulars.

Plenty of Va-Va-Vroom: La Fille du Regiment, Iford

It is not often that concept, mood, music and place coincide perfectly. On the first night of Opera della Luna’s La Fille du Regiment at Iford Opera in Wiltshire, England we arrived with doubts (rather large doubts it should be admitted)as to whether Donizetti’s “naive and vulgar” romp of militarism and proto-feminism, peopled with hordes of gun-toting soldiers and praying peasants, could hardly be contained, surely, inside Iford’s tiny cloister?

La finta giardiniera, Glyndebourne

‘Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends.’

Sophie Karthäuser, Wigmore Hall

Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser has a rich range of vocal resources upon which to draw: she has power and also precision; her top is bright and glinting and it is complemented by a surprisingly full and rich lower register; she can charm with a flowing lyrical line, but is also willing to take musical risks to convey emotion and embody character.

Ariadne auf Naxos, Royal Opera

‘When two men like us set out to produce a “trifle”, it has to become a very serious trifle’, wrote Hofmannsthal to Strauss during the gestation of their opera about opera.

Leoš Janáček : The Cunning Little Vixen, Garsington Opera at Wormsley

Janáček started The Cunning Little Vixen on the cusp of old age in 1922 and there is something deeply elegiac about it.

La Traviata in Marseille

It took only a couple of years for Il trovatore and Rigoletto to make it from Italy to the Opéra de Marseille, but it took La traviata (Venice, 1853) sixteen years (Marseille, 1869).

Madama Butterfly in San Francisco

Gesamtkunstwerk, synthesis of fable, sound, shape and color in art, may have been made famous by Richard Wagner, and perhaps never more perfectly realized than just now by San Francisco Opera.

Luca Francesconi : Quartett, Linbury Studio Theatre, London

Luca Francesconi is well-respected in the avant garde. His music has been championed by the Arditti Quartett and features regularly in new music festivals. His opera Quartett has at last reached London after well-received performances in Milan and Amsterdam.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Leo Nucci as Nabucco [Photo © ROH / Catherine Ashmore]
31 Mar 2013

Nabucco, Royal Opera House, London

“Gli arredi festivi giù cadano infranti, Il popol di Giuda di lutto s’ammanti!”. Verdi’s Nabucco at the Royal Opera House respected the spirit of the opera.

Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco

Click here for cast and production information

Above: Leo Nucci as Nabucco

Photos © ROH / Catherine Ashmore

 

The people of Judah are in mourning. The Overture is heard against a simple backdrop, focusing attention on the music, and not on the “false idols” of decorative frippery.

In this time of crisis, the people concentrate on the fundamentals of their religion. In this production, we concentrate on the fundamentals of the opera: on Verdi, and on his music. We listen to the orchestra, contemplating what the Temple means . When the chorus gathers and bursts into song, the impact is explosive.

NABUCCO-2587ashm_0939.gifLiudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille

This production, a joint venture between the Royal Opera House and Teatro alla Scala Milan, is strikingly perceptive in musical terms. This staging takes its cue from the invisible images in the orchestration. Daniele Abbado, the director, observes how Verdi contrasts large form against detail. The people of Judah worship a single, austere God, not multiple false idols. The director, Daniele Abbado, observes how Verdi builds the concept into his orchestration. Just as solo instruments are heard at critical moments in the drama, .individual voices stand clear against the background of massed chorus,. This contrast runs throughout the opera. Abbado’s staging reflects musical form : densely concentrated choruses, principals weaving in and out of the mass. When the crowd parts, and Leo Nucci’s Nabucco emerges, the effect is humbling. The King of the Babylonians is supposed to be all-powerful, but the God of Judah strikes him down. Nabucco isn’t divine, but human.

Leo Nucci has been singing Nabucco for decades. It is a privilege to hear him sing it again in this musically-informed production, where we can concentrate on his true artistry. He’s no longer young, but neither is Nabucco. Nucci brings out the depth of personality in the role. Babylon is a violent kingdom, and Nabucco sanctions savagery. It’s statecraft, after all. He plays a political game of public bluff, placing the crown on his head to assert authority. Nucci is small of stature, but his voice commands authority. Wisely, in this staging, he’s costumed in ordinary clothes, stressing the private side of his character, highlighting his misery and his love for his daughter. Nucci can create the role through his voice, and Abbado, who respects the drama in the music, lets him do so. When Nucci sings “una lagrima spuntò” he suggests that the madness is the first stage in a journey towards redemption, which culminates in the superb Act Four arias.

Forceful, impressive performances from Marianna Pizzolato and Ludmyla Monastryrska as Fenena and Abigaille respectively. The women represent dual personality, which Verdi emphasizes in his showpiece writing for the parts. The drama is in the music, the stage directions in the score fairly circumspect. Vitalij Kowalijow sang Zaccaria with great intensity. His High Priest is a force to be reckoned with, inspired as he is by his profound faith. Andrea Caré sang Ismaele. Robert Lloyd sang the High Priest of Baal. Two singers from the ROH Jette Parker Young Artists Programme, Dušica Bijelic and David Butt Philip sang Anna and Abdallo. Young as they are, they have great promise, justifying the investment that’s being put into developing them.

NABUCCO-2587ashm_0361.gifMariana Pizzolato as Fenena

Nabucco, though, is nothing without the choruses. As always, the Royal Opera House choruses, directed by Renato Balsadonna were excellent. Because they weren’t required to flaff about “acting”, we could cherish their singing. “Va, Pensiaro” was staged so simply that we could listen to the way the voices blended like instruments in an orchestra. Pure, clean light shone from above, truly “ove olezzano tepide e molli, l’aure dolci”. Much effort went into getting balances and positions right. These choruses, and the orchestral playing around them illustrated the meaning of this opera.. The gods of Babylon are hollow structures that cannot endure. The Hebrews survive together because they have higher, nobler ideals.

Verdi’s writing is so inherently dramatic that in some ways, the plot is just a frame for a powerful expression of spiritual values. In this case, the religion is Judaism, but the plight of the Hebrews would have had relevance to the Italy in which Verdi lived, fractured as it was by faction and foreign rule. Abbado’s Nabucco is well informed, true to the wider context of Verdi’s music and ideas.

This Nabucco won’t please audiences who need to follow graven images. There isn’t much bloodthirsty violence, and some details are hard to follow. But that’s all the more reason to appreciate what Abbado and conductor Nicola Luisotti are aiming at : a staging based on the music itself. Even the colours in the staging reflect the subtlety in the orchestration. We don’t see black and white but gradations of shades within the spectrum. Far too often, productions are slammed because some people resent a director having an opinion other than their own. But there is no such thing as non-interpretation in performance. Even when we read a score, we are “interpreting” the way the notes relate to each other, and making unconscious decisions about meaning. Sometimes productions are extremely interventionist but popular because they fit assumptions shaped by convention. Such is the hold false gods have on us. All the more reason, I think, we need to appreciate productions like this which highlight the music and its inherent drama, and connect us to the composer and the ideals he believed in.

Anne Ozorio

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):