One of the most grown-up review sites around

54,416 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             


AmazonUK   AmazonUS

Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Nabucco - opera in four parts
Originally known as ‘Nabucadonosor’ after the play from which Temistocle Solera derived the libretto.
First performed at La Scala, Milan on March 9th 1842
Nabucco, King of Babylon, Juan Pons (bar); Zaccaria, High Priest of the Hebrews, Samuel Ramey (bass); Abigaille, slave, believed to be the eldest daughter of Nabucco, Maria Guleghina (sop); Fenena, daughter of Nabucco, Wendy White (sop); Ismaele, Hebrew in love with Fenena, Gwyn Hughes Jones (ten); High Priest of Baal, Stephen Morscheck (bass); Abdalla, an officer in the service of Nabucco, Rafael Suarez (ten); Anna Zaccaria’s sister, Alexandra Deshorties (sop)
Metropolitan Opera Chorus. Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine. Recorded 2001
Production: Elijah Moshinsky; Set design: John Napier; Costume design: Andreane Neofitou; Lighting design: Howard Harrison; Video Director: Brian Large; Television lighting: Wayne Chouinard
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO 000440 073 0779 GH [142:00]


There are certainties about operatic productions at the Met. First, they tend to be of a more conservative nature than is often found in Europe and Britain. By that I mean that the composer of the music might recognise what is happening on stage whilst the audience doesn’t have to read an essay in the programme to do the same. One reason for this conservatism, which is often criticised by British critics, is that the production is often, as here, put on with the help of substantial private donations. To suggest that the relationship is between piper and payer is too simplistic. The Met has 4000 seats to fill. With no public subsidy it has to listen to its paying public. In the UK, heavily subsidised regional and national opera companies, even those on the verge of administration, often put on productions that would be unrecognisable by the composer of the music and generate half empty theatres! Consequently, the first statement I wish to make is that this staging is not set in Nazi Germany or modern day Israel. The sets may not be like what we read of the memorable first night at La Scala in 1843, when Verdi’s music was to change Italian opera forever, much like Beethoven had done to the symphony forty years before at the premiere of his Eroica. They are, however, realistic and evocative. Large stone-like blocks and staircases represent the Hebrew temple and that of Baal. Similar ones are used for the Hebrew slaves to lie and sit on as they contemplate their fate in the famous chorus (Ch. 12).

The arrival of Nabucco on a chariot (Ch. 10) is dramatic, but the coup de théâtre of the evening is the burning of the Hebrew Temple (Ch. 12). Brian Large, the vastly experienced video director, makes the most of such situations. Elsewhere, he uses a subtle blend of close-up and mid-range shots. His direction complements the production of Elijah Moshinsky in illuminating the unfolding drama. The producer manages to persuade most of the cast to act as well as sing. He also moves his soloists and chorus to good effect, although the moment of Ismaele’s liberation of Fenena from his own High Priest is rather contrived (Ch. 11). It is a significant loss to the overall effect that Juan Pons as Nabucco is such a wooden actor. Worse, although strong toned, his singing is monochrome and lacks vocal expression, nuance or attempt at characterisation. He might as well have been singing his local telephone directory for his entire attempt at expressive characterisation. As Nabucco’s antagonist, the Hebrew High Priest Zaccaria, Samuel Ramey is sonorous, expressive and largely firm in Sperate o figli (Ch. 5) and Oh, chi piange? (Ch. 29) when he encourages his flock, despite their adversity, to maintain their belief. Age does take its toll however, and as the interval approaches his voice loosens and his singing of Vieni, o Leviti (Ch. 16) is less than ideally steady. Gwyn Hughes Jones is a strong toned, expressive Ismaele (Ch. 6) whilst Wendy White sings Fenena with a good range of colour and expression (Ch. 35). The dramatic tension and temperature rises significantly with the arrival of Abigaille, the supposed daughter of Nabucco, but in reality a slave (Ch. 7). Maria Guleghina portrays the role here. She is a highly dramatic singing actress who combines vocal security with whole body involvement. The role of Abigaille is a fiendishly demanding part to sing with its declamatory passages including when she announces Nabucco’s arrival (Ch. 10) contrasting with the lyrical demands of her death scene (Ch. 38). The greatest vocal demands come in Ben io t’invenni (Ch. 13) and Anch’io dischiusio (Ch. 14) as Abigaille discovers her own true identity. The range takes the soprano from high above the stave to the lower regions of a dramatic soprano’s voice. Those vocal demands have defeated many distinguished singers whilst others have eschewed the role. Although Maria Guleghina is slightly off pitch on the concluding note she encompasses the demands with vocal assurance and dramatic flair. Her performance is a vividly sung and is an acted portrayal of the highest order.

James Levine will never have the feel for Verdi of Serafin or Gardelli. In his maturity he is not so frenetic or hard driven as heard in his audio recordings of Giovanni d’Arco (EMI) or La Forza del Destino (RCA). He lets the Verdian melodies flow and allows his soloists and chorus to breathe and phrase with the music. It is a mark of his maturity as well as the singing of the chorus that Va, pensiero is encored (Ch. 28); a most unusual circumstance, if not unique, at the Met in the post Second World War period. Despite the histrionic limitations of Juan Pons in the name part, I enjoyed this performance. It is worth the price for Maria Guleghina’s vivid portrayal of Abigaille. Although the booklet does not say so, I believe this was a new production in 2001 to mark the centenary of Verdi’s death.

Robert J Farr


Return to Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.