Monday, October 17, 2011
Metropolitan Opera – Verdi’s Nabucco. October 15, 2011.
Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center – Balcony Seat A7 ($109.50).
Story. Nabucco is attacking the Israelites but his daughter Fenena is captured and held hostage by the Israelites. Fenena is in love with Ismaele, nephew of the King of Jerusalem. Abigaille, Fenena’s half sister, gains entry into Jerusalem, but her profession of love for Ismaele isn’t reciprocated. When Nabucco confronts the Israelite Priest Zaccarias, Ismaele disarms the priest and releases Fenena. Fenena is then appointed regent by Nabucco. Abigaille finds out she is actually the daughter of a slave and vows to gain control of the kingdom. The High Priest of Baal brings news that Fenena has converted to the God of Israel and freed all the captives. He hatches a plan with Abigaille to usurp the throne by claiming Nabucco has died in battle. As she is about to be crowned, Nabucco appears and declares himself to be god. For his blasphemy he is struck by a thunderbolt, and Abigaille becomes queen. Abigaille wants to have Fenena and the Israelites killed. When the insane Nabucco wanders in, she tricks him into signing the death warrant, and also tears up the document indicating her ancestry. Nabucco watches as Fenena and the Israelites are being led to execution; his sanity is restored after he prays for forgiveness. He rushes in before the executions take place. The story ends when Abigaille asks for forgiveness and commits suicide and Nabucco freeing the Israelites.
Conductor – Paolo Carignani; Zaccaria – Carlo Colombara, Ismaele – Yonghoon Lee, Fenena – Renee Tatum, Abigaille – Maria Guleghina, Nabucco – Zeljko Lucic, High Priest of Baal – David Crawford.
The plot description above is one of the longest I have written, even though the story is quite simple. Somehow the story develops in such a way that I can’t simply summarize it in a short paragraph. Perhaps it is this Mark Twain effect of “not having time to write a short summary” (paraphrasing), orperhaps it is just a convoluted story.
The opera is inspired by the Biblical account of Nebuchadnezzar. The Program Notes claims there is no conflict with what is in the Bible, but Verdi (or rather his lyricist Temistocle Solear) has taken quite a bit of liberty with other characters. I know the Nebuchadnezzar described in Daniel, and none of the other characters exist, except for the generic High Priest of Baal. The Israel Priest Zacchariah didn’t have any overlap with Nebuchadnezzar, so I assume the Zaccaria in the opera does not refer to him.
Anne and I saw this opera in Los Angeles quite a few years ago (around 2003). At that time we were flying back and forth between the two coasts, and I distinctly remember her sleeping through most of the performance. She remembers liking the costumes (longer dresses) and the Hebrew slave song. I remember a bit of the staging (a huge staircase) and also the slave song. The slave song is of course one of Verdi’s most famous works, and was performed at his funeral, conducted by Toscanini. I wish I had kept a blog then (well, that would be anachronistic) so I have some idea how I enjoyed that performance.
While the opera is titled “Nabucco,” its main character is actually Abigaille. This is true in terms of the amount of singing she does, and in terms of hers being the most complex character. However, the character is presented in such a way that she doesn’t provoke a strong feeling from the audience. I don’t think the audience hates her (ala Scarpia in Tosca), nor do they feel great joy or great sadness when she dies. None of the other characters are developed fully, and the audience consequently isn’t greatly vested in how their fates turn out. Supposedly Verdi was discouraged after his first attempts at opera, and started composing again after he saw the libretto of Nabucco. I can’t imagine why.
On the positive side, the chorus plays a more important role in the opera. Even here the role can be developed a bit more fully. This is an opera that probably would benefit from being an hour longer to allow more time for character development; or a lot of the repetitions can be cut out.
A few words on the sets. They are quite massive, tall, wide, and occupy the entire stage. By rotating the platform, quick scene changes can be effected. There are also many staircases. Some of the design is puzzling, but they generally serve the purpose. As far as I could tell, the Palace looks like the Temple of Baal, with a grotesque figure towering over the throne; and the “Hanging Gardens of Babylon” looks suspiciously like the Palace. I was all ready to see how this wonder of the world might look like, at least in someone’s imagination. They do need the huge sets to accommodate all the singers. A couple of gallows were in the set depicting the impending execution; I am quite sure that wasn’t the means by which the condemned died then.
Renee Tatum is in the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and she started beautifully. Her voice was strong, although not as strong as some of her colleagues (more on that later). However, at the end she must have felt nervous as her voice became a bit unsteady. Tamara Mumford, who sang the role of Smeaton in Anna Bolena, certainly did a better job. Coincidently, she also performed as a Rheinmaiden in the Ring Cycle (also as Flosshilde, with SF Opera).
The young Korean Lee sang a strong role as Ismaele. Lucic, from Serbia & Montenegro, was excellent as Nabucco, he was particularly good with the low notes.
The Met revived Nabucco in 2001, and Guleghina sang the role of Abigaille then. Certainly her experience showed during tonight’s performance. However, most of the time her volume is set on high. It actually started and remained loud for so long that I wondered if she had any other volume setting. Turns out she does, and it is really regrettable that she doesn’t do that more often. Ten years as Abigaille, on and off I suppose, haven’t improved her acting skills that much.
I did a little counting, I have seen at least 10 of Verdi’s operas. Several of them more than once.
Anne went to Flushing early afternoon, drove the car into Manhattan, and found off-street parking that cost us $2.50 only. I took the train in. We had dinner at China Fun. The opera ended at about 11:20 pm and the ride home was quite smooth.