Customer Review

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-sung performance of an early Verdi masterpiece in a so-so production, 24 Aug 2010
This review is from: Verdi: Nabucco [DVD] [2004] [2001] [NTSC] (DVD)
SOURCE:
Live performance from La Scala in Milan, produced by National Video Corporation in association with Radiotelevisone Italiana, Milan. Nabucco was the first production of La Scala's 1986-87 season, so this performance can be assumed to have occurred in the autumn of 1986.

SOUND:
Generally adequate two-channel stereo. The microphones were apparently set to capture the solo vocalists and the orchestra. The chorus is attended with less care, leading to what strikes me as a seriously underpowered "Va, pensiero" in Act III.

CAST:
Nabucco (Nebuchadnezzar), King of Babylon - Renato Bruson (baritone)
Abigaile, the elder but adopted daughter of Nabucco (or maybe his daughter by a concubine slave) - Ghena Dimitrova (soprano)
Fenena, younger daughter of Nabucco - Raquel Pierotti (soprano/mezzo-soprano)
Ismaele, presumably the son of Nerthaniah, son of Elishama, of the blood royal - Bruno Beccaria (tenor)
Zaccaria, High Priest of Jerusalem - Paata Burchuladze (bass)
High Priest of Baal at Babylon - Mario Luperi (baritone)
Anna, a Jewish woman - Francesca Garki (soprano)
Abdallo, a loyal officer in Nabucco's Guard - Ernesto Gavazzi (tenor)

CONDUCTOR:
Riccardo Muti with the Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

SETS AND LIGHTING:
Not very impressive and generally dim. Act I takes place in the interior of what is meant to be Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem. The main feature (indeed, about the only feature) is a long, curving, gloomily lit staircase.

Act II takes place in the palace in Babylon, a bluish and largely featureless space, and a hall elsewhere in the palace, conceived as a curving, blue, set-spanning staircase. Act III, Scene 1 is specifically identified in the score as the hanging gardens, but there is not a plant, hanging or otherwise in sight. The set has touches of Baroque architecture and animal motifs. It couldn't possibly look less Babylonian. It is bluish, though.

Scene 2 is "on the banks of the Euphrates." It consists of dimly lit, anonymous risers that allow for silhouettes against a featureless sky. The gloom makes the chorus all but invisible.

Act IV returns to the palace, this time to a virtually blank stage.

Scene two (supposedly the hanging gardens again) is a large, white stairway leading to a golden, man-sized statue of Baal at upstage center. This is the brightest scene in the opera. It looks like a moonlit night.

COSTUMES:
Poor Ismaele has the only touch of red to be seen in the whole production; unfortunately, he seems to be wearing a dress best suited for the Homecoming Queen of Babylon High School. His pearl-covered hat is something that Theda Bara would have killed for. Fenena, in her pale, high-collared dress, dead-white make-up and sugar loaf hat, looks like she has just beamed down from the moon. Zaccaria is wearing a sort of caricature of a Pope's miter, encircled by a golden crown, beneath which appear the (Roman ) letters YHWH. I imagine that a real high priest of Jerusalem would have thought that in terrible taste at best, and more likely blasphemous. There are some white costumes, but most are dark blue or black and hard to see in the parsimonious lighting.

STAGE DIRECTION:
Almost absent. The singers were apparently told to stand here or there and then left to their own devices. This is very much a classic operatic stand-and-deliver staging.

COMMENTARY:
"Nabucco" was Verdi's third opera and his first hit. It was a sensation that established him on the spot as the successor to Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. He had just come through a personal crisis in which his wife and children had died in rapid order and his second opera, a comedy of all things, had been such a failure that it had been withdrawn from production. His depression was such that he had decided to give up composing.

One of the most famous stories in operatic lore speaks of Verdi's producer physically forcing a copy of the libretto of Nabucco into his pocket, of Verdi throwing it across his room, of the manuscript falling open to "Va, pensiero," and of the way that caught his attention. When Giuseppe Verdi died six decades later, thousands of Italians spontaneously sang "Va, pensiero" as his funeral procession passed by.

In 1842 many regarded Verdi as an unpolished peasant from the tiny town of Busetto. He had no significant patrons in the musical world and only a few advocates. One of them was the soprano Giuseppina Strepponi. She had championed his first opera and she appeared in the first production of his third as Abigaile. She would eventually become his second wife. Prior to her long and devoted alliance with Verdi, she had led a life not at all unlike that of Violetta Valery in her husband's "La Traviata."

The libretto is a fine example of 19th Century Italian piety, blood and thunder action, and casual indifference to historic facts. In this opera, for example, the king of Babylon is regularly called an Assyrian. He, the very man who had carried the Jews into Babylonian exile, is portrayed as ordering their return to Jerusalem--just seventy years too early.

"Nabucco" is early Verdi, but it is a true masterpiece. It has never dropped out of the standard operatic repertory and it works as effectively today as it did in 1842. "Nabucco" not only established Verdi as Rossini's, Bellini's and Donizetti's peer, it demonstrated that there was already more sheer, bold muscularity in his composition than in all three of his predecessors combined.

Bruson is good as Nabucco. He is a natural baritone, though, and I personally prefer a bass-baritone sound for the part. Burchuladze is a fine bass-baritone Zaccaria, although here again my preference would be for a true basso-profundo. Dimitrova is excellent in the role of Abigaile, a notorious voice-killer. At the time of this recording, she had no serious rivals in the part. The Ismaele and Fenena are adequate in their parts, although far more memorable for their preposterous costumes than for their singing.

This production marked the return of Riccardo Muti as Music Director of La Scala. He gives the audience their money's worth by conducting the overture like a hyper-active windmill on speed. After that, he is calmer and turns in solid work.

This is a good performance, one that's noticeably better sung than staged. Fortunately, the staging is merely inadequate rather than stupid and insulting in the manner of so many productions in this age of Eurotrash "Regietheatre."

Four stars.
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Comments

Tracked by 2 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Dec 2010 19:56:26 GMT
You've hit just about all the nails on the head. I bought this after reading some over-the-top reviews elsewhere, and was disappointed. Last night I watched it for the third time, perhaps the last. Only Bruson and Dimitrova act, the rest (including the chorus) file on, sing and file off. As you pointed out, most of the costumes are ludicrous. You forgot to mention Burchuladze's paste-on beard. Fenena is the living embodyment of the word "gormless". I get far more enjoyment from listening to Sinopoli's recording and forming my own images. Your four stars are a tad generous.

Posted on 19 Oct 2013 23:36:23 BDT
Coolman says:
This appears to be a review of a "live La Scala performance". The Amazon description and cover is apparently of a production at the Verona amphitheatre. Which is it?

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2013 19:55:37 BDT
The Amazon description and cover that come up on my computer are of the live La Scala performance, which is what it is.

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2013 20:38:04 BDT
Coolman says:
Very strange. The Verona production carries the same reviews as the La Scala performance.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Oct 2013 21:49:07 BDT
It wouldn't be the first time by any means. Reviews and versions of the Victoria Requiem were totally messed up a while back. I have't checked to see if that's still the case. Buyer beware, I'm afraid.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Nov 2013 00:22:57 GMT
Coolman says:
Thanks, Captain.
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