So, last night was a thoroughly enjoyable performance of Nabucco at Covent Garden, something of a birthday treat. Domingo headed a cast that included the formidable Liudmyla Monastyrska amongst other excellent performances.
Daniele Abbado’s production has had more than its fair share of detractors, but from our vantage point (extreme side, in a Balcony box) I thought it functioned quite effectively in providing an unintrusive – indeed atmospheric – space for the action, with some nice touches such as the standing stones being toppled in one destructive episode. Elsewhere, admittedly, it’s less effective, such as the destruction of the idol, which is formed from parts held on sticks, which actors bring down to the floor with rather less drama than the music suggests. The clouds of dust that erupt from the sand-covered space whenever the chorus move around it seem rather alarming as well, given the artform depends on the health of participants’ airways.
However, I’ve seen a few comments from people about how both ‘sides’ of the war look very similar in their grey modern costumes, but I didn’t find it too difficult to keep up with the action. Certainly, no more difficult than Solera’s swift-but-blunt libretto makes things. This isn’t, to be clear, one of Verdi’s more subtle works. The action seems to be powered by a succession of people marching forward from backstage and declaiming some new twist in the drama. Beyond choosing for them to come on from the sides, a director’s options are a bit limited.
Martin Kettle in the Guardian suggested that “conventional critical observations do not apply” to the veteran Domingo’s performance of Nabucco, with which I’m inclined to agree. There is a remarkable authority brought by so seasoned a stage-creature, and he poured it all into the scenes of Nabucco’s disintegration under a combination of wrath both divine and filial, the latter thrown at him by his fearsome daughter, Abigaille. There was still some remarkable security and beauty to be found in his tone, such as a very moving Dio di Giuda, and where it was required an impressive power.
The most thrilling singing undoubtedly issued from Monastyrska as Abigaille. With her Lady Macbeth, seen back in 2011, it was the sheer scale and power of the voice that thrilled, allied to some hair-raising coloratura. These impressive attributes were just as evident in her Abigaille, but it was actually the softer singing – such as in a melting Anch’io dischiuso un giorno – that seemed the more breathtaking. Beautiful and steady, when combined with the powerful passages elsewhere these twin characteristics of power and control add up to a really captivating performer. She executed the really quite barmy drops from stratosphere down to contralto with aplomb. Even if her acting still needs an extra layer of detail (firmly bearing in mind the remarks about the work itself, made above), still: “Wow!”
Her boyfriend-stealing half-sister Fenena was played with calm (by comparison) dignity by Marianna Pizzolato. A velvety tone complemented the more steely Monastyrska, and she made her Act 4 aria Oh dischiuso è il firmamento! a remarkable moment of stillness amidst much otherwise shouty declamation. Andrea Caré sang Ismaele strongly, with a tenor sounding better suited to the declamations than the caressed phrase but nonetheless consistently attractive. The main line-up was completed by a noble and clear-voiced Zaccaria from Vitalij Kowaljow.
Nicola Luisotti kept forward momentum going in the pit, and seemed very connected with the orchestra, his sharply-delineated, if extrovert, conducting technique drawing some superbly crisp playing and colouring of the score. At the end of the performance, he went around the orchestra sections acclaiming and thanking them, which is not something that is often seen at the ROH (for those of us that can see into the pit from our seats!) The chorus were on stellar form as well, crowned with the meditative beauty they brought to Va! Pensiero.
All in all, a very enjoyable evening – I’m glad Verdi moved into more sophisticated territory later in his career, but Nabucco certainly still stands up as a good romp once in a while.