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Brilliant Classics

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Nabucco (1842)
Renato Bruson (baritone) Nabucco; Carlo Colombara (bass) Zaccharia; Maurizio Frusoni (tenor) Ismaele; Monica Bacelli (soprano); Lauren Flanigan (soprano) Abigaille
Chorus and Orchestra of Teatro Di San Carlo/Paolo Carignani.
Rec. live at Teatro Di San Carlo, Naples, on May 9th, 1997.

Nice to see a familiar name on the line-up for this Nabucco. Renato Bruson of course is a known to many, so to see him in the role of Nabucco (or Nabuconodosor, as the cast list has it, using the correct full version of the name) makes this DVD worthwhile in itself. Carlo Colombara, perhaps not as starry a name as Bruson but familiar nonetheless, makes an impact, too.

Nabucco was Verdi’s third opera and his first real success. It is true that the mature Verdi is waiting in the wings and inspiration is not uniform. Nevertheless, it is well worth airing (as is almost all early Verdi).

Conductor Paolo Carignani has a native’s feel for Verdi, as becomes apparent from the Overture (which uses material from the opera). The 3/8 Andante section that uses material from the Chorus of the Levites is here marvellously sweet (a lovely oboe solo).

The opera opens with a chorus of Hebrews, who pray to Jehovah to scatter the Babylonian armies. The curtain rises to reveal the fairly small stage of San Carlo and a lusty chorus. Appropriately, colours are generally dark.

The first soloist to enter is Colombara as Zaccharia. Authoritative of voice and imposing in demeanour, he display a smooth legato and an even range (including a firm high E natural).

A duet between Ismaele and Fenena provides the opportunity to enjoy the expressive Monica Bacelli (who is later to excel herself in her visionary Act 4 aria; Lauren Flanigan (Abigaille), when she enters is not very imposing, though she seems to warm up to an impressive high B.

All is ready for Nabucco’s entrance. The off-stage band as he approaches works well, the re-entrance of the orchestra as the troops appear making its presence felt, yet Bruson’s presence is far more imposing. He manages to project real anger.

Act 2 brings an opportunity for Abigaille to shine. The setting is oppressive - dimly lit; dark clothing. Her arioso is excellent, revealing a powerful voice (good B flat on ‘betrayed’; large leaps excellently negotiated). All of the technical challenges seem easy to her, so she can concentrate on her character’s extreme emotions (she even cries convincingly at the end!).

In Scene 2, it is the orchestra that excels itself preparing for Colombara’s dark-hued contribution. Yet he is eclipsed by Nabucco’s Mad Scene that ends the act: Bruson is superb (as he is in Act 4 Scene 1, another opportunity for insanity-invocation).

Act 3 is set in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The orchestral Tempo di marcia is on the scrappy side. But the biggest let-down is the portrayal of the Priests, with stuck-on beards à la Morecambe and Wise. Once the hilarity has died down, the performance is fair but no more. Better is the ensuing Abigaille-Nabucco duet. Vocally, Flanigan and Bruson’s strengths complement each other, with her excellent trills and even florid runs against his excellent top register (top F natural). Nabucco’s plea for mercy towards the end of Scene 1 is an eloquent one (there is a slight cut here).

Act 3 of course includes the most famous part of the opera, the chorus ‘Va pensiero’. The chorus suddenly hits form, swelling with innate patriotism. Finally, Act 4 concludes with Abigaille (Flanigan) on top form (there is a short cut in this act, also). Her death speech is compellingly touching.

In short, this is a Nabucco that is well worth investigating. It is more rewarding than the Aida in this series ( ) and certainly more so than the Gluck ( ).

Colin Clarke

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