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Performances

29 Jan 2018

Brent Opera: Nabucco

Brent Opera’s Nabucco was a triumph in that it worked as a piece of music theatre against some odds, and was a good evening out.

Brent Opera: Nabucco

A review by Louise Flind

 

When a small company does what we deem to be a big piece, normally endowed with a 50-strong chorus, 70 orchestra and camels in abundance, disbelief hangs in the air before the first down beat, but this production proved that Nabucco can work with a chorus of 19 and a piano. The other big challenge with Verdi is finding a Verdi baritone, in this case 2 and even though Verdi bills one of them as a bass, he slips in the high odd note which is just out of reach. This problem was skilfully tackled by the Musical Director James Williams who deftly but sympathetically kept going almost carrying the singers along with him – and it was in everyone’s interest that he was only in charge of an upright piano rather than a blazing orchestra.

Without resources for a set, a further pro was the lovely setting of St Andrew’s Church and bearing in mind the libretto is based on the biblical books of Jeremiah and Daniel this seemed fitting. Stage designer Leah Sams seemingly had an easy time although her arch, cleverly lit by Nigel Lewis to depict city walls, a cell door etc worked well.

Brent Opera has been going for nearly 100 years (2021) and is a free for all to audition. The regulars in the company are of a certain age and this proved to be another pro for the chorus which cleverly ranged in age down to 2 children (and a fake babe in arms) – when they sang the famous "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves", " Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate " / "Fly, thought, on golden wings", it was an authentically moving moment and with the odd good voice in the mix, the sound was pretty impressive too.

Fears aligned Nabucco doesn’t have to be staged in Verona or Earls Court. It’s a psychological drama with a cast of 8, about the Jews when they were being exiled from their homeland by the Babylonian King Nabucco. A romantic and political plot are played out with the strong message that good will conquer evil, and this point was clearly delivered by director Ptolemy Christie. Having portrayed Nabucco as a maniacal nutcase using his cruel daughter Abigaille as a side-kick vindictively abusing the Jews, the revelation of his prayers to the God of Israel pledging to convert at the end of the opera, were all the more poignant. Christie systematically characterizes his characters. Zaccaria, the High Priest decently sung by Steven East clad in an almost winged cloth top is Jesus – good, kind, generous, while Abigaille sung bravely by Elisabeth Poirel is the root of all evil, bagging the crown, tossing her father in prison and torturing Jews. These portrayals work across the cast and chorus and make it believable in a way you didn’t think would be possible. Sofia Celenza’s Anna (only one line sadly) shines out both dramatically and vocally.

Clever old Brent Opera booking Williams and Christie – they’re the real deal and produced an evening of great entertainment.

Louise Flind

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