The Royal Opera Chorus, gifted this great number, is a wonderful, many-headed creature. It functions and sings as one being, but has the power to outdo even the most compelling and communicative soloist, because there is something intensely moving about a crowd of people giving voice.
People like us, in Nabucco. Dressed for all weathers in serviceable grey, raincoats at the ready. People clutching their children, shielding them from the worst of the world. People who bully or who bully, looking, but for their expressions of hatred or fear, pretty much the same as each other.
In Daniel Abbado's production, revived at the Royal Opera House for the second time, heroes and villains, the oppressed and the oppressors, are transferred from the remote ancient history of Babylon and Jerusalem to the more familiar and relatable backdrop of the Second World War. The Hebrews are the persecuted Jews whose stories we know, picked off by the besieging Babylonians.
Standing fearlessly against the onslaught is Zaccaria, sung by Russian bass Alexander Vinogradov with the power and conviction of one whose faith overcomes earthly setbacks. The enemy is led by Nabucco – Nebuchadnezzar, performed with impassive grandiosity by Amartuvshin Enkhbat. Fighting over Hebrew royalty Ismaele, attractively sung by Uzbekistani tenor Najmiddin Mavlyanov, are two women who think themselves sisters; but one, Abigaille was only raised by Nabucco, while the other, Fenena, is his true daughter.
The role of Abigaille was to have been sung at some performances by the great Anna Netrebko, but stepping in from her own performances, Russian soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska is magnificently indignant and vengeful, her voice unleashed like a gnashing hound. Russian mezzo-soprano Vasilisa Berzhanskaya is gently likeable as wronged Fenena, and there was marvellous singing in a final ensemble by April Koyejo-Audiger as Zaccaria's sister Anna, passionately pushing through the many emotions being voiced all around in her defence of Fenena.
Monuments suggestive of tombs, memorials, roadblocks and closed doors loom large in Alison Chitty's design. When golden idols are paraded they prove hollow and are gone in an instant. Also doomed, the puffed-up Abigaille, and the delusionary Nabucco. How satisfying. Luca Scarzella's video backdrops add initially to the sense of teeming masses, but ultimately tire.
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under conductor Renato Balsadonna, standing in for an indisposed Daniel Oren at the performance on 14 January, sounded a little fragmentary in the opening pages, but there was some lovely playing later from, notably, flautists and cellists.
As for 'Va, pensiero', it was sung as a prayer, not a bellow, and it was enough for one couple sitting near: after it they got up and left. But it's worth staying the course. In Nabucco are the seeds of better known Verdi operas to come – here is Rigoletto's plea for his daughter Gilda, there are the whispers of men plotting to abduct her. Rigoletto itself, premiered 10 years later in 1851, returns to Covent Garden next month (18 Feb to 12 March). How fascinating to hear one directly after the other.
Nabucco is sung in Italian with English surtitles. It is a co-production with La Scala, Milan, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona. Remaining performances are on 17, 20 and 23 Jan. Click here for booking
|What||Nabucco, Royal Opera House review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
17 Jan 22 – 23 Jan 22, Performances on 17 and 20 Jan at 7:30PM; on 23 Jan at 3PM
|Website||Click here for more information and booking|