VERDI: Nabucco

Stage director Gunter Kramer begins with a pantomime scene under the
overture – a strategy that can provoke immediate antipathy in some
viewers. Here, a small group of children engage in solitary play, barely
interacting. A ballerina twirls, one young boy plays with a puppet (Punch? Or
Judy?) on a toy stage set, another boy with a rocking-horse, and a second
young lady, in black, regards herself in a mirror, then shoves the ballerina
aside and imitates her.

With the overture finished, the children leave, but their toys remain
onstage, most conspicuously, the toy stage. It took two people –
Manfred Voss and Petra Buchholz – to create the bare stage design of
projected Hebrew script for a background, with a glass case holding the crown
and a sword. The chorus crowds on, dressed in mid-century overcoats and hats,
with baggage strewn about. This evokes the images of Jews being gathered for
deportation, and although the validity of the historic parallel can be
questioned, the dramatic intention is strong and provocative.

The camera direction (Anton Reitzenstein) here strives too hard to add
movement to a static scene, and by picking on details and individual faces,
dilutes the theatrical impact of the crowd scene. Giacomo Prestia delivers
Zaccaria’s aria with a sizeable but unsophisticated instrument, and he
will be the lesser of the five principals of the evening.

Absolutely stunning in a white shift, Marina Domashenko would steal the
show if she had more to do as Fenena. She delivers her solo impeccably, and
when involved in a scene acts a most sympathetic Fenena. She can be a bit
blank when not given something to do.

Miroslav Dvorsky (called Miro in the credits) may make for a surprisingly
Slavic and strapping nephew to the King of Jerusalem, but he sings with
robust passion, and certainly more impressively than he did in San Francisco
in Tosca a season or two ago.

Ultimately, a successful Nabucco comes down to the title role and
its Abigaille, and here Vienna scores with Leo Nucci as the King of Babylon
and Maria Guleghina as his ostensible daughter. In a dark blue
double-breasted suit, Nucci makes a dramatic appearance, suddenly rising
amidst the Jewish refugees. The director places a lot of the dramatic action
on Nucci’s shoulders, including his reaction to an invisible lighting
bolt from above (where else?). Nucci has, if Opera Today readers
will allow, a sort of homely dramatic power that works well in this role, and
his long solo in part four earns a passionate response from the audience,
perhaps more for his commitment than the occasionally raspy delivery.

Glamorous in a gorgeous dark blue gown, not unlike those worn at operatic
galas, Guleghina is caught at the height of her powers. Never a beautiful
voice, she provides instead a viscerally exciting performance, where any
imperfection is irrelevant to the final effect. And here she is able to make
Abigaille’s final scene more than an obligatory afterthought, and truly
cap the evening off.

Thanks to these singers, this Nabucco has strengths enough to
deserve viewing; ultimately, they triumph over an inconsistent, even
incoherent production. If the updating is to mid-20th century, why does
Zaccaria take a swig from a very 1990s’ water bottle before an aria?
Why are Zaccaria and Fenena visible in the shadows behind Abigaille in her
solo scene? Couldn’t Nabucco indicate his determination to save
Fenena’s life by something other than straitening his tie with grim
resolve? When Abigaille’s henchmen ostentatiously set fire to the
toy stage set, does that equate the theater with a holy temple? And when
those same henchmen carry mirrors to reflect Abigaille’s image back at
her, does that mean she is the young girl admiring herself in the
overture’s pantomime? So the other children must be….oh no. Too
far to go for too little reward….

In the end, viewers would do well to forgive the production its failings
and admire the singers and one other vital element – the brilliant
performance of the Vienna orchestra under the inspired leadership of Fabio
Luisi. His leadership blazes away with urgent rhythms and strong yet stylish

The Metropolitan Opera filmed a Nabucco around this time, also
with Guleghina. That production, although nothing brilliant, at least has a
rough-hewn handsomeness and much less to quibble over. Samuel Ramey’s
Zaccaria scores way ahead over Prestia’s in Vienna; otherwise, the
Vienna cast has the edge.

And then there are the not inestimable pleasures of a Verona production,
which beggars description and must be seen to be disbelieved.

So for those able to ignore some missteps in the production, the best
moments of this Vienna Nabucco earn the DVD a cautious

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: Nabucco
product_by=Leo Nucci, Maria Guleghina, Marina Domashenko, Giacomo Prestia, Miroslav Dvorsky, Choir and Orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, Fabio Luisi (cond.)
product_id=TDK DVWW-OPNAB [DVD]