PERFORMER: Plácido Domingo, Liudmyla Monastyrska, Vitalij Kowaljow, Marianna Pizzolato, Andrea Carè, Dusica Bijelic´, David Butt Philip, Robert Lloyd; Royal Opera House Chorus & Orchestra/Nicola Luisotti; dir. Daniele Abbado (London, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: 88875059359
The line between oratorio and opera is eradicated in Nabucco. Verdi’s 1842 Old Testament drama of oppression, madness and conversion is told in a score of remarkable thematic tautness; the Babylonian and Hebrew characters shaped and moulded by common tragedy; the chorus a terrifying voice of sadness and fury; the orchestral writing dark and sinuous. In this context the current vogue for staging Handel’s oratorios seems less like an innovation and more like common sense. Sung drama is sung drama, be it sacred or profane.
Unloved at its London premiere, Daniele Abbado’s 2013 Teatro all Scala production seems sharper on DVD. The severity of Alison Chitty’s sand-swept brutalist designs, redolent of ghetto and graveyard and Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, works well on screen. The lighting, by Alessandro Carletti, is calibrated to conductor Nicola Luisotti’s muscular reading of the score. Confusing in the theatre, clothing both peoples in mid-century utility dresses and suits, with just a sprinkling of skullcaps and prayer shawls, is less problematic here. Screen director Rhodri Huw picks out the most telling expressions in close-up, with mixed results in the case of the principals.
Abbado seems more interested in blocking than in character. The result is acting that is neither entirely stylised nor entirely naturalistic. Veteran baritone Leo Nucci was replaced by the veteran tenor Plácido Domingo in the title role for just four performances at Covent Garden. Unsurprisingly, it is his Nabucco we see here: soft-edged and vulnerable. More convincing are Liudmyla Monastyrska’s fearless, tireless Abigaille, Marianna Pizzolato’s Fenena, Andrea Caré’s Ismaele, and Vitalij Kowaljow’s Zaccaria. The Royal Opera’s chorus excels, while the orchestral performance is gripping from the first baleful glow of the trombones to the delicate halo of harp and pizzicato strings and the nagging, trilling flutes.