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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Nabucco - opera in four acts (1841)
Nabucco – Plácido Domingo
Abigaille – Liudmyla Monastyrska
Zaccaria – Vitalij Kowaljow
Fenena – Marianna Pizzolato
Ismaele – Andrea Carč
High Priest of Baal – Robert Lloyd
Royal Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House/Nicola Luisotti
rec. live, Royal Opera House, April 2013
Region Code: 0
Picture Format 16:9
Sound Formats: LPCM Stereo. DTS Digital Surround
SONY CLASSICAL 88875 059359 DVD [133:00 + 9:00]

Covent Garden mounted a new Nabucco in 2013 partly to mark the Verdi bicentenary, but also to showcase Plácido Domingo’s debut in the role. It’s remarkable that, at the age of 72, Domingo was still taking on new roles. You have to salute his commitment to the project when he could be resting on his well-earned laurels by now. However, I remain thoroughly unconvinced by his conversion to a baritone. The notes are all there, but he sings them like a tenor-gone-low and, as with his Covent Garden Simon Boccanegra or his Berlin Trovatore, the tone is all wrong. He does not have the depth, heft or authority that the role requires and, when you hear him on stage with a proper bass like Vitalij Kowaljow, the comparison is embarrassing. During his great Act 4 conversion aria he sounds light and brittle when he needs to resonate with authority. More damagingly, he sounds as though he is gasping for breath in places. Even worse, having Domingo sing this part means that the balance of the sound in the ensembles is all wrong. That’s particularly damaging in the great Act 3 duet with Abigaille where a great dramatic soprano has no trouble seeing off what sounds like a desiccated old man. Domingo loyalists will no doubt disagree, but for me this just confirms that he needs to either stop singing or find some repertoire that suits him better.

Elsewhere, however, the musical side of this performance is very strong, and is crowned by a cracking Abigaille from Liudmyla Monastyrska. She confirms all the early promise of her Covent Garden Macbeth, managing singing of hair-raising dexterity and power in her big Act 2 scene, but floating some gorgeous pianissimi in her death scene. She is a mighty talent, definitely someone to watch. Marianna Pizzolato is inevitably paler by comparison but manages a nicely husky element to Fenena’s tone. Andrea Carč sings his brief solos with ringing clarity. Vitalij Kowaljow’s Zaccaria is sensational, reaching into the depths of the character with power and grandeur, while managing to retain the character’s often elusive sense of humanity, especially in the second act. Nicola Luisotti’s tempi are on the fast side, but he doesn’t shy away from the crash-bang-wallop elements of Verdi’s score, and it sounds all the better for it. The orchestra follow him enthusiastically, sounding clear and brilliantly articulated and, importantly, the chorus are on fantastic form, too. That’s not just true for Va Pensiero — which ends with a beautifully judged long fade to silence — but also for the opening scene in the temple which storms along on its own tide of electricity, as well as a magnificent final hymn.

Daniele Abbado’s rather austere production isn’t at all bad. There is nary a hint of Ancient Babylon and the mid-20th-century costumes seem to heap Holocaust references on top of one another. It has become an all but inescapable trope when presenting this opera, and Abbado doesn’t do anything interesting with it, but it’s possible to ignore it and enjoy the singing. He chooses one major image to dominate each act, be it a series of ominous stelae in Act 1 or the idol of Act 4. He is happy to go in for some old-fashioned stand-and-deliver in his directing of both the soloists and the chorus. In fact, the best moments are those when he leaves them alone to get on with it, and there are enough of those to make this DVD enjoyable.

Domingo’s performance, while it draws the headlines, means that, for me, this can’t be a wholly satisfying Nabucco. If you need it on DVD then try one of Leo Nucci’s, both more satisfying because they have a proper baritone in the role, though the minor parts are less well cast. However, neither is a patch on Tito Gobbi’s classic CD from Decca or, even better in my opinion, Sinopoli’s Berlin recording on Deutsche Grammophon.

Simon Thompson



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