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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901) Nabucco
Renato Bruson (baritone) – Nabucco; Ghena Dimitrova (soprano) – Abigaille; Dimiter Petkov (bass) – Zaccaria; Bruna Baglioni (soprano) – Fenena; Ottavio Garaventa (tenor) – Ismaele; Ellero d’Artegna (bass) – High Priest; Aronne Ceroni (tenor) – Abdallo; Giovanna Di Rocco (soprano) – Anna
Orchestra and Chorus of the Arena di Verona/Maurizio Arena
Producer: Renzo Giacchieri; Designer: Luciano Minguzzi; Directed for video by Brian Large
Recorded live at the Arena di Verona in 1981
NVC ARTS 0630-19390-2 [approx. 130:00]

Going to a live performance at the Arena di Verona and watching the same performance on a TV screen are actually two diametrically opposite experiences. On location one can’t help being impressed by the sheer size of the arena, the stage, the architectonically grouped enormous choral forces and the feeling of sitting there amidst 20,000 other opera-lovers during that mild summer evening while the dark blue sky becomes ever darker during the performance. The downside is that what is normally the core of any opera - the interplay between the central characters, the main conflicts - is more or less marginalized. On TV the mass effects feel curiously distanced, while the drama can sometimes be transferred straight into one’s living room provided the singers are good actors who can stand close scrutiny from close-up cameras. But since the projection and the action is dimensioned to reach out at least to the audience in the stalls there is still much of a compromise.

In Nabucco, Verdi’s third opera and his break-through work, the chorus plays a central part, not only for singing the piece that almost every person, classically oriented or not, knew and could hum a generation or so ago, the Hebrew prisoners’ chorus, but also for lots of massed singing passages all through the opera; the chorus is almost constantly on stage. At Verona this is a problem, since the two hundred singers have to be placed on the stairs that provide most of the space and there is very little a director can do to create change. Once there the singers can’t be expected to move around so they are more or less a decorative back-drop, beautifully positioned but not very alive, and it gives quite an absurd impression when in one scene some soldiers are fighting while the chorus just stand there, motionless. Luckily they sing well and the chorus master, Corrado Mirandola, who is not mentioned in the credits on the back of the DVD box, is worthy of great praise.

The acting from the main characters is on the whole not much to write home about, with one notable exception: Renato Bruson. He is mostly quite restrained when it comes to gestures but his face, and especially his eyes, mirror the different facets of his character. Whether this carried out to the audience is hard to tell. The others are fully content to walk about and make some stock gestures ... and I have to say that the costumes in several cases make you smile instead of conveying the tragic undertones of the drama.
The singing is variable: Zaccaria, one of the most grateful bass roles in the operatic repertoire, is sung by Dimiter Petkov, who is unsteady and worn. The young Ellero d’Artegna who sings well in the small role of High Priest, would probably have been a better choice. Ottavio Garaventa’s Ismaele is strained and in his dynamic gear-box there is only one gear: forte. Bruna Baglioni, a sadly under-recorded singer, is a good Fenena but the really superior singing comes from Bruson and the impressive Dimitrova. She has a bright and voluminous voice with not a hint of a wobble, rare indeed for big dramatic voices. Add to this a rare sensitivity to nuances. Abigaille’s great aria in the second act is sung with restraint and dignity and she delivers masterly diminuendos; a highpoint in this performance. Together with Bruson, the Nabucco – Abigaille duet in act 3 is another highlight, challenging the legendary Gobbi–Suliotis recording from the sixties. And Bruson, at the height of his powers around 1980, has a magnificent voice: evenly produced, voluminous, warm and rounded and with a legato singing that made many commentators liken him to Battistini - the highest praise a baritone gan be given. He is not such a superb voice-actor as Tito Gobbi but as an instrument his voice wins hands down. The great act 4 aria, Dio di Giuda, has probably never been sung so well. These two singers make this DVD a worthwhile buy and when one tires of the not very inspiring acting it can be played as a common CD.

I think all the Verona DVDs, originally released as videos in the 1980s (in some cases I saw them on TV) start with a kind of documentary showing the preparations for the performance and the audience coming to the arena. Also, very atmospherically, we get the last few minutes before the start of the performance, all those thousands of candellini, little candles, that are lit in the audience. At least to someone who has experienced this on-site it evokes pleasant memories.

Brian Large does what can be done to get some life in the action, Maurizio Arena ensures good playing from his orchestral forces and the sound, without being in any way special, never lets the performance down. There are enough cuing points to make it possible to pick and choose among the titbits. There is also a synopsis in the box.
Definitely not a desert-island DVD but for Dimitrova’s and Bruson’s singing well worth owning.

Göran Forsling



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