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Opera Review: A Long While in Babylon

By Superconductor @ppelkonen

Nabucco bows at the Metropolitan Opera.

Opera Review: A Long While in Babylon

Maria Guleghina as Abagaille.
Photo by Marty Sohl,
© 2005 The Metropolitan Opera.

On Tuesday night, the Metropolitan Opera opened Nabucco, the company's first revival of the 2011-12 season. Verdi's version of the Old Testament story of the Babylonian captivity features the chorus as a central character, but the opera has plenty of room for star turns in its two leading roles.
Maria Guleghina will never be the most subtle singer, but she impressed in the difficult role of Abagaille. The daughter of Nabucco (Nebachudnezzar) siezes the throne when her father goes mad, threatening to exterminate the Jews captured in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem. It is a thoroughly unsympathetic part, but Ms. Guleghina brought raw emotion and occasional beauty of tone to the role. Her best singing came in the quiet passages, like the Act II cavatina. She also brought her laser-like chest-voice to bear on her big confrontation with Nabucco in Act III.
Baritone Željko Lučić tackled the role of Nabucco (Nebachudnezzar) whose rash act of declaring himself God (in the second act) leads to madness, despair, and ultimately, conversion to the Jewish faith. Mr. Lučić sang with a rich, dark-hued voice, handling the role's stentorian, early passages with power and delivering his best singing in the Act IV prison scene.
The Serbian baritone's long duet with Maria Guleghina was a highlight of Act III, recalling the singers' appearances together in the Met's 2009 production of Verdi's Macbeth. These two singers have strong onstage chemistry, even when separated by an oversized ziggurat set with a giant staircase. But the greatest moment of the evening was the famed chorus that followed: "Va, pensiero."
Mention Nabucco to even the most casual opera fan and their thoughts immediately fly to this famous chorus, sung by the captured Hebrews on the banks of the Euphrates river. In this case, the singers were arranged on a pile of rocks that looked like a ruined Sumerian temple. The chorus was beautifully delivered by the Met's small army of singers, singing with rich power and emotion. Conductor Paolo Carignani took a leisurely tempo, allowing the impact of the words to sink in.
The supporting cast was led by Carlo Colombara in the key bass role of Zaccaria, the Hebrew priest who serves as spiritual leader throughout the captivity. Mezzo-soprano Renée Tatum was strong as Fenena, Nabucco's younger daughte. She supports and joins the captured Jews. Tenor Younghoon Lee made the most of Ismaele, a small tenor role that is almost an afterthought in this baritone-dominated opera.
Abagaille's death scene is another afterthought, which is more the fault of librettist Temostocles Solera than of Verdi himself. The composer did hist best with this sudden entrance and death by slow poison, writing a passage for the leading lady that drips with bel canto-style embellishment. It is a credit to Ms. Guleghina's performance that she navigated this grueling final scene with skill, singing with raw emotion and making her character's suicide make dramatic sense.


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