This production, a joint venture between the Royal Opera House and Teatro alla Scala Milan, is strikingly perceptive in musical terms. This staging takes its cue from the invisible images in the orchestration. Daniele Abbado, the director, observes how Verdi contrasts large form against detail. The people of Judah worship a single, austere God, not multiple false idols. The director, Daniele Abbado, observes how Verdi builds the concept into his orchestration. Just as solo instruments are heard at critical moments in the drama, .individual voices stand clear against the background of massed chorus,. This contrast runs throughout the opera. Abbado's staging reflects musical form : densely concentrated choruses, principals weaving in and out of the mass. When the crowd parts, and Leo Nucci's Nabucco emerges, the effect is humbling. The King of the Babylonians is supposed to be all-powerful, but the God of Judah strikes him down. Nabucco isn't divine, but human.
Leo Nucci has been singing Nabucco for decades. It is a privilege to hear him sing it again in this musically-informed production, where we can concentrate on his true artistry. He's no longer young, but neither is Nabucco. Nucci brings out the depth of personality in the role. Babylon is a violent kingdom, and Nabucco sanctions savagery. It's statecraft, after all. He plays a political game of public bluff, placing the crown on his head to assert authority. Nucci is small of stature, but his voice commands authority. Wisely, in this staging, he's costumed in ordinary clothes, stressing the private side of his character, highlighting his misery and his love for his daughter. Nucci can create the role through his voice, and Abbado, who respects the drama in the music, lets him do so. When Nucci sings "una lagrima spuntò" he suggests that the madness is the first stage in a journey towards redemption, which culminates in the superb Act Four arias.
Nabucco, though, is nothing without the choruses. As always, the Royal Opera House choruses, directed by Renato Balsadonna were excellent. Because they weren't required to flaff about "acting", we could cherish their singing. "Va, Pensiaro" was staged so simply that we could listen to the way the voices blended like instruments in an orchestra. Pure, clean light shone from above, truly "ove olezzano tepide e molli, l'aure dolci". Much effort went into getting balances and positions right. These choruses, and the orchestral playing around them illustrated the meaning of this opera.. The gods of Babylon are hollow structures that cannot endure. The Hebrews survive together because they have higher, nobler ideals.
Verdi's writing is so inherently dramatic that in some ways, the plot is just a frame for a powerful expression of spiritual values. In this case, the religion is Judaism, but the plight of the Hebrews would have had relevance to the Italy in which Verdi lived, fractured as it was by faction and foreign rule. Abbado's Nabucco is well informed, true to the wider context of Verdi's music and ideas.
A full review with cast list to come in Opera Today
Photos : Copyright Catherine Ashmore, Royal Opera House