Monday, February 23, 2015

An entertainingly stretched Nabucco at Stuttgart Opera

Giuseppe Verdi's tapestry of luscious music portraying the assault, capture and liberation of the Israelites by the Assyrian king, Nebuchadnezzar (Nabucco), is given more a modern 'classroom-conflict' makeover from director Rudolf Frey. Strong performances persist but the direction robbed the work of pathos and compassion. Frey left it to Verdi to drive the drama while he has some cabaret-style fun along the way. It's close to feeling altogether disrespectful but he chooses his moments without exacting too much damage. A modern-day connection with Jewish/Palestian conflicts seems to filter through but, if so, the impact is feeble. As a first-time experience of Nabucco it might leave you unimpressed.

Gergely Németi (Ismaele), Diana Haller (Fenena), Dmitri Platanias (Nabucco), Anna Pirozzi (Abigaille)

What Frey does do successfully is build the picture on the stage with a stealthy eye aided by Ben Baur's set design. The empty stage hull, presumably a synagogue (and the Temple of Solomon in Verdi's version), is dressed with a golden 'Glomesh' curtain (both raised and lowered for effect) for the royal apartments and gardens (Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Verdi's). A light-studded screen drops for Abigaille's showbiz flaunt as she plans to become ruler of Babylon (or at least the stage while accompanied by her guards sporting black feather dance props). After her number ends, the screen is raised to reveal a stepped platform supporting a long dining table where more diplomatic proceedings occur, raised novelly for Nabucco to stand upon and proclaim himself God. Overall, despite being difficult knowing whether Silke Willrett and Mark Weeger's costumes came from the costume department or a department store, the visual effect at least provides legibility for dramatic events.

Fortunately Verdi's expressive music shone under the baton of Australian conductor and Principal Conductor of the Stuttgart Opera, Simon Hewitt. A dynamic harmony existed between the pit and stage, the cast of soloists deliver meaty performances and the Stuttgart Opera Chorus polished every one of Verdi's massed works as they turned the stage into gripping theatre. In the opera's most recognized chorus, when the Israelites long for their homeland singing Va pensiero, sull'ali dorate, a completely moving interpretation concluded with breathtaking, elongated and fading pianissimo.

Liang Li's Zaccaria and Dimitri Platanias' Nabucco stood out with grand performances and both showed sustained strength and sterling vocal shading. Li's respected leadership as the High Priest of the Jews was unshakeable, embodied with both stage presence and a bass that contained a roaring furnace of heat which he vented with finesse. Platanias kept the lid on his staggering instrument, preferring to let the chest and pressure expand while still projecting tyranny.

As Abigaille, Nabucco's supposed daughter, soprano Catherine Foster showed fierceness and conviction in a character matched with vocal stamina and depth. High in her range, however, an abrasiveness tarnished her otherwise fine work in this notoriously difficult role but her vocal cords earned every penny.

After an impressive performance the night before as Steva in Jenůfa,  Gergely Németi returned as the Jewish prince Ismaele and object of Abigaille's attentions, following up with a strong vocal rendition but an uncertainty in action that weakened his character. Other fine performances came from Diana Haller as Ismaele's lover and Nabucco's daughter Fenena (adding to the story's politico-love triangle) and Ashley David Prewett as the hard to forget and colourfully entertaining High Priest of Baal, who both conspired against Nabucco and seemingly against the opera's seriousness. The envelope was really being pushed here, entertaining as it was.

Photo courtesy © A.T. Schaefer

No comments:

Post a Comment