giovedì 22 settembre 2016

Nabucco goes to War in Music and Vision 14 July

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Nabucco goes to War
the audience in Rome

Nabucco is one of the staples of Italian nineteenth century melodrama. The opera has often been reviewed in this magazine, most significantly in 2011, when one-hundred-and-fifty years of Italian unification were celebrated ('Simple and Effective', 15 March 2011).
There are several legends about the composition of Nabucco. They are based on hearsay to a large extent. In 1841-2, when the opera was composed, Verdi was a loyal subject of the Parma-Piacenza Great-Duchy and was not actually involved in the national unification movement; on the contrary, he showed scorn and disdain for politics (and politicians) throughout his life and depicted this quite vividly in operas such as Simon Boccanegra, Don Carlos and Aida. However, Nabucco gradually grew as an icon of Risorgimento — the national independence and unification movement — because of its subject — the Jews under the Assyrians; between 1842 and 1861, it had 121 performances only at La Scala but then inexplicably vanished from the repertory of Milan's main opera house until 1912; it was revived in the thirties when it acquired its role as the operatic symbol of Italian unification.
Based on a French play, in 1842 Nabucco was one of many operas based on Bible subjects. As a matter of fact, the 1842 audience applauded warmly the final chorus to God Almighty, Immenso Jehova, not the now acclaimed Va Pensiero. Nabucco has an uneven score with occasional lapses into banality and some unsteady formal experiments that we rarely see in Verdi's future operas. Unusually for Verdi, Nabucco has no major tenor role. The parts of Nabucco and Zaccaria offer tremendous opportunities for the baritone and the bass, and the role of Abigaille, always problematic to cast, can prove highly effective for a dramatic coloratura soprano with the agility to ascend to the heights of impervious acute and descend to the depth of low tonalities. The opera's real protagonist is the chorus, which dominates most of the strongest scenes, and which enters with such stirring effect at climactic points.
On 9 July 2016 a new production opened the summer season of Teatro dell'Opera di Roma in the spectacular setting of the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla. I saw and heard the 11 July performance. This production does away with both the colossal Hollywood approach and the Italian Risorgimento quite often associated with Nabucco. The staging of the young and upcoming director Federico Grazzini, the sets of Andrea Belli and the costumes of Valeria Donata Battella place the action in the ruins of a contemporary Middle Eastern town during a war. The defeated group is in modern but disheveled attire. The winners' group look more like terrorists than an army. There are some good staging ideas: for instance the Va Pensiero chorus is sung in a prison courtyard rather than on a river bank. But the staging does not seem fully resolved.
The Teatro dell'Opera di Roma chorus singing 'Va pensiero' in Verdi's 'Nabucco'. Photo © 2016 Yasuko Kageyama
The Teatro dell'Opera di Roma chorus singing 'Va pensiero' in Verdi's 'Nabucco'.
Photo © 2016 Yasuko Kageyama. Click on the image for higher resolution
On the musical side, recent productions of Nabucco, conducted by Gustav Kuhn and Riccardo Muti, emphasized the opera's belcanto nature, rather than its anticipations of Verdi's later melodramas. The conductor John Fiore followed a more traditional approach, even though three of the protagonists (Csilla Boross as Abigaille, Luca Salsi as Nabucco and Alisa Kolosova as Fenena) are great in belcanto and gave a belcanto slant to their respective roles.
Csilla Boross as Abigaille and Luca Salsi in the title role of Verdi's 'Nabucco'. Photo © 2016 Yasuko Kageyama
Csilla Boross as Abigaille and Luca Salsi in the title role of Verdi's 'Nabucco'. Photo © 2016 Yasuko Kageyama. Click on the image for higher resolution
Vitalij Kowaljow as Zaccaria is an effective Eastern European bass. Antonio Corianò as Ismaele is a good melodramatic tenor. The Teatro dell'Opera chorus (a real protagonist) did marvels under the guidance of Roberto Gabbiani.
The open air auditorium, seating an audience of three thousand, was full and enthusiastic.
Copyright © 14 July 2016 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy
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