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Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)
Nabucco (1842), highlights
1. Overture [7:08]
Part I:
2. Gli arredi festivi giù cadano infranti … Sperate, o figli! [6:30]
3. Lo vedeste? Fulminando egli irrompe nella folta [1:18]
Part II:
4. Anch’io dischiuso un giorno … Salgo già del trono aurato [7:48]
5. Vieni, o Levita … Tu sul labbro de’veggenti fulminasti [5:56]
6. S’oda or me! Babilonesi [5:21]
Part III:
7. Chi è costei? … Oh, di qual’onta aggravisi [7:07]
8. Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate [5:11]
Part IV:
9. Dio di Guida! [5:53]
10. Va! la palma del martirio [12:13]
Matteo Manuguerra (baritone) – Nabucco; Veriano Luchetti (tenor) – Ismaele; Nicolai Ghiaurov (bass) – Zaccaria; Renata Scotto (soprano) – Abegaille; Elena Obraztsova (mezzo) – Fenena; Robert Lloyd (bass) – High Priest of Baal; Kenneth Collins (tenor) – Abdallo; Anne Edwards (soprano) – Anna; Ambrosian Opera Chorus; Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, 10-20 July 1977 and 5-8 February 1978

I own the complete set in the original LP version. I bought the set fairly soon after it was first issued, but I have never been very fond of it. Some of Muti’s early opera recordings for EMI: Aida, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino and Don Pasquale - the latter I reviewed in highlights form on an ArkivCD not long ago - are all among the top contenders. Nabucco, however, immediately struck me as far too crude, aggressive and hard-driven. It can certainly be quite thrilling in a primitive way but in the long run one longs for more subtlety, more caressing of the beautiful writing also offered beside the punchy parts. This becomes at once evident in the overture, where the last part – after the well-known melody from the Hebrew Slaves’ Chorus – is so Rocky Marciano hard-hitting that I was floored before I had even raised my guard. And this is the way it goes through the opera with ferocious fortissimos and slugger tempos. Perversely the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, which should have some flow – they are standing on the banks of the Euphrates – is so viscous that it seems they have already thrown in the towel. There is nothing wrong with the Ambrosian Opera Chorus, though. They are, as always, a fine body of singers and here they have rich opportunities to show this in Verdi’s most chorus-oriented opera.
The fine line-up of soloists doesn’t quite fulfil the promise. Robert Lloyd in the small role as High Priest of Baal is excellent with steady black tone while Elena Obraztsova, whose Fenena is briefly heard in the finale (tr. 10) is quite sensitive but also shaky.
Nicolai Ghiaurov recorded most of Zaccaria’s scenes for a couple of recital records on Decca in the 1960s and early 1970s. There he was superb with warm, well-focused tone and a sap in the voice that could challenge Siepi or – even further back – Pinza. Alas by 1977-78 he had lost too much of this: the tone is grey and he has to work hard to be heard. The warmth is still there and the phrasing is as sensitive as before but the singing is less than inspired.
Renata Scotto, having during the 1970s taking on heavy roles like Tosca and Norma, had also lost the youthful freshness of a decade earlier. She also sings sensitively and phrases with her accustomed feeling for the text and the dramatic situation. However there are many moments of strained and squally tone. She invests the part with as much intensity as she possibly can, but compared to Elena Suliotis on the benchmark Gardelli recording she even feels over-parted, no doubt through Muti’s relentless turbo-drive. In the finale she is at her very best.
The singer that stands out is Matteo Manuguerra, whose bright baritone I have always admired. He makes a youthful Nabucco and a thrilling one. The duet with Scotto’s Abigaille (tr. 7) is splendid and in his aria in Part IV (tr. 9) he is monumental, but also rather monochrome. Muti rushes through the cabaletta.
The excerpts chosen give a fair picture of the opera, even though there are important scenes that could have been included in full. No texts but a fairly detailed cue synopsis. The sound is impressive – as I have already indicated.
There haven’t been too many recordings of this opera. The only digital offering, a DG recording under Sinopoli with Cappuccilli, Domingo and Nesterenko, is no more recommendable. What remains is the old Decca from the mid-1960s with Gardelli a sure-footed Verdian, Suliotis a sensational Abigaille in her debut recording and Tito Gobbi a truly expressive Nabucco. Vocally he was a bit past his best and the supporting cast is no more than serviceable but this is still the one to have. It is available, but only complete so those who want only highlights have to make do with Muti. There are some good things here, especially Manuguerra’s vital reading of the title role, but too much is hard-driven and unsubtle.
Göran Forsling


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