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In the circumstances, the Royal Opera House deserves the highest praise for the quality of its productions since they returned. They have continued to attract the world’s finest opera singers, and their orchestra, which has always been superb, also seems filled with delight to be performing to very appreciative audiences. The latest production of Verdi’s Nabucco is a great example of the shared joy between performers and audiences.
The story is an embellished version of the Biblical tale of Nabucco, or Nebuchadnezzar II as we know him, King of Babylon. A great warrior King, he became obsessed with his own glory and declared himself a God. As predicted by the prophet Daniel in his interpretation of one of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, the Hebrew God did not take this well and punished the King by driving him mad for seven years, making him live in the wilderness with the wild animals.
Babylon and its military objectives, which include wiping out the Hebrews, are gleefully taken over by the evil Abigaille, who is thought to be Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter, while Neb’s other daughter, the saintly Fenena, is ignored and even sentenced to death. After seven years, as Daniel had predicted, Nebuchadnezzar regains his strength and sanity, takes back control, accepts the errors of his ways, praises the Hebrew God, saves His people and Abigaille kills herself.
It’s a great story, made more glorious by a wealth of brilliant performances. The Ukrainian soprano Liudmila Monastyrska has always impressed with the beauty and strength of her voice and the power behind her gloriously high notes is stunningly impressive in the role of Abigaille. Even better, she has an equally magnificent co-star in the Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat as Nabucco. The duets between these two voices are extraordinarily impressive. Even by the high standards of the ROH, this is great singing.
These two roles dominate the opera, and I was left wishing Verdi had given us a chance to hear more of mezzo-soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya as Fenena and her fellow Russian Alexander Vinogradov as the Hebrew priest Zaccaria. Both had the perfect voices for their parts: Berzhanskaya’s is sonorous and sensitive, Vinogradov’s is rich and priestly, and they were both a joy to listen to.
Even the chorus took their chance to add another moment of glory when they huddled together on stage to perform the powerful and well-known Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves. An announcement had preceded the start of the opera that because of the Covid pandemic, the chorus would be performing in face-masks, which was greeted by some disapproval by certain sections of the audience. Remarkably, however, seeing the slaves forced to wear face-masks and listening to their slightly muffled voices made the scene even more poignant than usual.
My only disappointment in a glorious evening lies in the production itself. Daniele Abbado is an intelligent and talented director and his eye for historical authenticity showed itself in the battle scenes projected onto the back of the stage, intensifying the depiction of the Babylonian army’s destruction of Hebrew graves modelled on ancient examples of such tombs on the Mount of Olives. But what about the singers? Abbado seemed to often to have left them without clear direction resulting in a strangely rigid performance, with little onstage movement or interaction even between the principals.
The singing was five-star, the production merits only three.
Box Office and information: Visit the Royal Opera House website or call 020 7304 4000 (various dates until 23 January)
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