Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Nabucco - Opera in four parts (1842) Originally known as Nabucadonosor after the play from which Temistocle Solera derived the libretto
Nabucco, King of Babylon - Leo Nucci (baritone); Zaccaria, High Priest of the Hebrews - Riccardo Zanellato (bass); Abigaille, slave, believed to be the eldest daughter of Nabucco - Dimitra Theodossiou (soprano); Fenena, true daughter of Nabucco and loved by Ismaele - Anna Maria Chiuri (soprano); Ismaele, Hebrew in love with Fenena - Bruno Ribeiro (tenor); High Priest of Baal - Alessandro Spina (bass); Abdalla, an officer in the service of Nabucco - Mauro Buffoli (tenor); Anna, Zaccaria’s sister - Cristina Giannelli (soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio, Parma, Italy/Michele Mariotti
Staged by Daniele Abbado
Set and costumes by Luiigio Perego
Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
rec. live, 12-14 October 2009
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese
C MAJOR BLU-RAY 720504 [137:00 + 10:00 (Introduction to the opera)]
This is the first of a projected Parma Verdi Festival edition of the operas of Verdi to come my way. Called Tutto Verdi, the edition will mark the bicentenary of the great Italian opera composer’s birth “with recordings of all twenty-six of his operas”. This simple statement on the product case begs a lot of questions. For a start there are twenty-eight different titles in the Verdi canon. Of these Jérusalem (1847) was a re-write of his fourth opera, I Lombardi (1843) to a French libretto for the composer’s début at the Paris Opéra. Aroldo (1857) was a re-write of Stiffelio (1850) to get away from the portrayal of a married Protestant Minister that offended some audience sensibilities. I suspect these two re-writes will not feature and also that the two other operas that Verdi wrote to French libretti for Paris, Les Vêpres Siciliennes (1855) and Don Carlos (1867), will be recorded in their Italian translations. As I write the first six of Verdi’s operas are available in this series.
Nabucco was Verdi’s third opera. Like the first two, Oberto (1839) and Un giorno di regno (1840) it was premiered at La Scala, Milan. The latter opera, Verdi’s only comic opera until his last, Falstaff (1893) was initially considered a failure. During the composition of Un giorno di regno life for Verdi was difficult. Money was short and his wife pawned jewels to pay for their lodgings. Always prone to psychosomatic symptoms, the composer suffered from a bad throat and angina during the composition. Then, in June 1840, on the feast of Corpus Christi, his beloved wife died of encephalitis and thus followed their children.
With his personal and professional life in tatters, Verdi returned to his home in Busseto determined never to compose again. However, Merelli, intendant at La Scala, pressed on him the libretto of Nabucodonosor. Verdi read the libretto and was greatly stimulated by it albeit that, to his chagrin, its completion was too late for inclusion in the La Scala season whose sequence had already been completed and published. It took some vehement correspondence from the composer before the opera was premiered on 9 March 1842, in second-hand sets but with a first-rate baritone and bass. Giuseppina Strepponi, who was to be a great influence in Verdi’s life, sang Abigaille. The work was a resounding success and although the season had only ten days to run Nabucco was given no fewer than eight more times. The delighted Merelli promptly scheduled a revival for the following autumn when there were another sixty-seven performances, breaking all La Scala records. The chorus Va pensiero was regularly encored with the Milanese public, under Austrian occupation, clearly identifying themselves with the oppressed Hebrews of the story. It was a tenuous start to the identification of Verdi and his operas with the Risorgimento movement, later in the 1840s, for the liberation and unification of Italy.
Whilst Verdi’s first two operas could be seen as Donizettian in idiom, flavour and pace, Nabucco was something different. The forward thrust and vibrancy were entirely different from anything that had gone before and were to be the hallmark of Verdi’s subsequent early period works. Rossini had used the chorus as a major protagonist in a number of his works, particularly the opera seria of his Naples period and in a manner that his successor, Donizetti, who was present at the Nabucco premiere, did not. In Nabucco, Verdi makes full use of the chorus as a major protagonist. It is always a pleasure to hear an Italian Chorus sing these Verdi choruses. The performance of the Teatro Regio forces in this performance confirms that, particularly with the young Michele Mariotti on the rostrum having such a sensitive feel for the idiom. The famous Va pensiero comes over with a pliant pleading that bites into the soul (CH.26).
This production by Daniele Abbado, in sets and costumes by Luigio Perego, is straightforward and somewhat static. No regietheater for this duo, albeit there is the idiosyncrasy of the Hebrews being in modern dress, the men in variations of standard Jewish headgear, according to their particular sect, the Babylonians in appropriate period and ethnic costume.
The sets are simple with the temple of the Jews appearing to be backed by something like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. There is not much movement on stage by the soloists or a lot of involved acting either. The Video Director focuses on the main protagonists and not a lot is seen of the width of the simple sets with tableaux being dominant. Of the three principals, the Zaccaria of Riccardo Zanellato is the steadiest vocally if lacking some lower-toned sonority (CHs.4, 14-15 and 27). In the demanding role of Abigaille the Greek soprano Dimitra Theodossiou, more often seen in Donizetti or Bellini bel canto roles in Italy, portrays an imperious Abigaille. Not always steady, she manages the notoriously fearsome tonal drop better than many (CHs. 11-12) and is appropriately regal after usurping the throne from Nabucco (CHs.22-25). In the eponymous role Leo Nucci, once rather lean-toned has here acquired a greater vocal variety. Regrettably in this, at least this third or fourth video recording of the title role, Nucci has lost the ability to hold a legato line (CH.25 and 29) and his voice tends to spread under pressure.
I was impressed with Bruno Ribeiro as Ismaele in the open-air performance recorded at the St. Margarethen Festival in July 2007 (see review) but find him a little dry here (CH.5). As Fenena, the true daughter of Nabucco, Anna Maria Chiuri, acts well and sings with full tone but is vocally hesitant in her prayer (CH.32). Ismaele’s rescuing of Fenena as Zaccaria uses her as a hostage is poorly managed (CH.16).
Whatever the individual vocal limitations of the soloists, the playing of the orchestra under Michele Mariotti and the choral contribution are big pluses.
The bonus is a ten-minute introduction to the opera given with snippets from this performance - a welcome innovation. There are also brief trailers of the others of Verdi early operas in this series already released, Oberto, Un giorno di regno, I Lombardi, Ernani (1844)andI Due Foscari (1844).
Video competition is greater than for any of the composer’s operas up to Rigoletto (1851). The Met performance from 2001 remains a firm favourite (see review) whilst that from Piacenza in 2004 featuring Ambrogio Maestri in the title role and Paata Burchuladze as Zaccaria has many virtues. Unlike that from the Met, it is in 16:9 format (see review). Nucci appears in the title role in earlier performances from Verona (see review) and Vienna on TDK DVWW-OPNAB.
Robert J Farr
The strengths lie in the conducting and choral singing in a highly competitive video market.
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