Including revisions and re-writes, Giuseppe Verdi left us 37 operas. In
this, his bicentenary year, it will be interesting to hear those that are lesser known.Nabucco’(‘Nebuchadnezzar’) is but third in Verdi’s catalogue of compositions and was first performed in 1842 when he was 28. It is neither celebrated nor familiar. Unfortunately, this new Royal Opera co-production (with La Scala and other houses) will not change the situation.
A war is being fought between the Hebrews and the Babylonians, the latter led by King Nabucco, whose daughter Fenena has been captured. Intrigue, revenge, romance and politics, and Nabucco’s rebellious daughters, vie to be top of the agenda – and yet, this staging keeps such ingredients under wraps. With Verdi yet to find theatrical flair, ‘Nabucco’ is a series of set pieces of similar musical devices that lack characterisation and here is handicapped by a static and minimalist Stonehenge-like setting, directed by Daniele Abbado – back projections distract, the wire monoliths are no more appealing, and costuming suggests the 1940s.
There are, though, some good vocal showpieces especially the huge hit that is the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, ‘Va pensiero’. This is wonderfully sung by the Royal Opera Chorus (the final fade-to-nothing deserving stunned silence not vacuous mood-breaking applause). Indeed, the Chorus has much to do, and does it all superbly.
Meanwhile, the ROH Orchestra plays well for the efficient Nicola Luisotti, leaving us some star turns among the solo singers. As Nabucco, Leo Nucci is initially reticent but blossoms to be the great Verdian that he is. As Abigaille, believed to be Nabucco’s elder daughter, Liudmyla Monastyrska is formidable in this hugely demanding role (some sopranos have rejected it for fear of voice damage). Playing his other daughter, Fenena, Marianna Pizzolato makes a fine impression. The singing, whether solo or choral, is a consistent highlight, but the staging is bland and undermines whatever drama Verdi invested into his score. Colin Anderson