Verdi’s Nabucco: worth the watch

BY RICHARD JOHNSON Observer senior reporter

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

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Last Saturday, The Metropolitan Opera kicked off its Live in HD series for 2017 with a spectacular performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco.

The performance had a number of elements in its favour. Conductor emeritus James Levine was in the pit guiding the orchestra while Spanish opera veteran Placido Domingo once again tackled the title role of the war-weary ruler who must fight to free his people.

Nabucco is essentially has a biblical back story: The Babylonians and the Israelites are at war. The Israelites hold Fenena, daughter to the King of Babylon, captive and the ruler must do everything to free her and his people. The plot thickens when Abigaille, a warrior princess, weaves a rumour that the King is dead and as such declares herself queen... a little too quickly.

Like any good story there were a series of twists and turns at the end of the four acts. What unfolded amidst brilliant music and vocal performances was a full-bodied, well-developed drama.

At age 75, Placido Domingo is still astounding. He is widely known for his tenor voice having performed as part of the powerhouse trio, The Three Tenors, alongside Luciano Pavarotti and Jose Carreras.

For this work he performed as a baritone to great effect. His years on stage and in the spotlight have served him well as he skilfully manipulated the character to deliver the range of emotion required — from the firm, assertive ruler, to the caring father. This came to the fore in arias such as Dio di Guida and Oh di qual onta aggravasi questo mio crin canuto.

Despite his accumen, the cast of Nabucco did not allow Domingo to ride roughshod over them. After all it was the Met, and as such the lead characters all gave splendid performances.

The standout was Liudmyla Monastyrska.

The Ukranian spinto soprano has a powerful instrument which was perfect for her role as the power-hungry Abigaille. True to form her voice often towered over the orchestra creating high drama. She was able to stand toe-to-toe with Domingo both in character and vocal presence and never waned. She too delivered strong arias which only left the audience, both at the theatre in New York and those watching via satellite at Carib 5 in Kingston wanting more.

More came in the form of bass Dmitry Belosselskiy.

Another Ukranian, he has been described as ‘one of the most exciting basses of his generation’, and this is undeniable. From his very first notes one his drawn to the power, resonance and lyrical qualities of his voice. This was used to great effect as Zaccaria. Mezzo soprano Jamie Barton and tenor Russell Thomas — both American — also delivered strong interpretations of Fenena and Ismaele respectively.

While the music was delightful throughout Nabucco, acts three and four delivered a non-stop treat for the senses.

In these final tableaux it is aria after aria, balanced and well-blended choral work to thrill any audience. Among the highpoints was the tender and touching rendition of VaPensiero (popularly known as theChorusof the Hebrew
Slaves). The cut-away shots of conductor Levine said it all. A rousing applause both in New York and Kingston gave way to a second performance of the stirring piece.

Local audiences who missed last Saturday’s performance can catch the encore of Nabucco at Palace Cineplex this Sunday. It is worth the watch.

The Live in HD series continues on January 21 with Romeo et Juliette — Charles Gounod’s take on Shakespeare’s ode to star-crossed lovers.





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