[Met Performance] CID:350601
New Production
Nabucco {15} Metropolitan Opera House: 03/08/2001.

(Debut: John Napier, Andreane Neofitou

Metropolitan Opera House
March 8, 2001
New Production

Giuseppe Verdi--Temistocle Solera

Nabucco.................Juan Pons
Abigaille...............Maria Guleghina
Ismaele.................Francisco Casanova
Fenena..................Wendy White
Zaccaria................Samuel Ramey
Anna....................Alexandra Deshorties
High Priest.............Stephen Morscheck
Abdallo.................Rafael Suarez

Conductor...............James Levine

Production..............Elijah Moshinsky
Set designer............John Napier [Debut]
Costume designer........Andreane Neofitou [Debut]
Lighting designer.......Howard Harrison

"Va pensiero" repeated

Production a gift of Bill Rollnick and Nancy Ellison Rollnick
Additional funding by Mr. and Mrs. Ezra Z. Zilkha, Mr. and Mrs. Sid R. Bass,
Mr. and Mrs. Paul M. Montrone

Nabucco received nine performances this season.

Review of Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times

Verdi in which the only Spin is the Scenery

One can imagine how a production team planning a new staging of Verdi's "Nabucco" would be tempted to update the opera. Its biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia, who after a ruthless campaign against the Hebrews in Jerusalem comes to accept Jehovah as his God, has as much resonance now as it did at its Milan premiere in 1842, when Italians were striving to rid their country of foreign domination and establish a unified independent state.

Elijah Moshinsky, whose new production of "Nabucco" for the Metropolitan Opera opened on Thursday night, decided early on that he wanted to present Verdi's opera, not a spin on it, not an ironic reconsideration, but a forthright staging that depicted characters caught in the sweep of historical events. Mr. Moshinsky's traditional staging, though, is like a series of still tableaus. The characters seem not caught up in events, but stuck in place as history swirls by. And this is unfortunate, for James Levine and his orchestra and chorus had a triumphant night on Thursday, and a strong roster of singers in the leading roles gave their all.

The most debated element of the production will no doubt be the set designs of John Napier, in his Met debut, whose credits include the Broadway show "Cats," as well as productions at the Glyndebourne Festival. Against a bare black background, Mr. Napier has erected a massive, rotating, multilevel structure that on one side depicts the world of Jerusalem, built from blocks of brownish stone, and on the other the world of Babylon, carved out of blackish bronze. On all sides the set is tiered with stairs. You can only hope the Met has rented Stairmasters for the dressing rooms to keep their troupes in condition. Operagoers who like their Verdi monumental may find the set grand and granitic. But when it starts to spin, with motors whirling and choristers holding stylized poses on its various plateaus, the creaky set can seem a rotating heap of junk.

At times the production comes together effectively, as in Act III, when the captured Hebrews, resting from enforced labor on the banks of the Euphrates, recline against the tiered stone walls and sing the great chorus of hope, "Va Pensiero." This is the essence of early Verdi: just a soaring melody, mostly sung in unison, and an undulant, elegant oompah-pah orchestral accompaniment, beautifully rendered here. The audience applauded and cheered until Mr. Levine performed the chorus again.
"Nabucco," Verdi's third opera, is no masterpiece. There are some pro forma cabalettas and uninspired stretches. But the score is filled with riches and flashes of genius to come. Mr. Levine makes no attempt to inflate the music. Everything is natural, songful, crisp and sonorous.

The veteran Met baritone Juan Pons sings Nabucco, and on [the first] night there were some dry patches in his voice. But he can be an overly muscular singer, and it was good to hear him bringing more subtlety to his work. This was an honorable performance that should get better.

One reason "Nabucco" is not often performed (the only previous Met production was in 1960-61), is its voice-killing soprano role: Abigaille, the Babylonian slave believed to be Nabucco's eldest daughter, who schemes to win the crown for herself and spends nearly the entire opera angry. Revealing his inexperience, Verdi filled her music with relentless vocal leaps and punishing coloratura passagework, sung almost entirely at high volume. Yet such is the lure of the role that every generation a noted soprano seems compelled beyond reason to sacrifice her voice at the altar of Baal. The latest is Maria Guleghina, who gives a fearless, exciting and dangerous performance. She fills the hall with gleaming sound, and in her disheveled blond wig has an amazing wild-eyed look. But the heavy-duty singing takes its toll, and in the few reflective moments her voice is shaky. Still, Ms. Guleghina is the Abigaille of the day.

The bass Samuel Ramey, in splendid voice, brought great dignity to the role of Zaccaria, the Hebrew high priest. The tenor Franciso Casanova, as the Hebrew soldier Ismaele, who loves Nabucco's younger daughter, Fenena, sang with a vocal heft that matched his bodily heft. The mezzo-soprano Wendy White was a sweet-voiced Fenena.

The Met has settled for generic grandeur in this long-awaited "Nabucco." Still, that the opera has returned, especially under the care of Mr. Levine, is good news for Verdi lovers in this anniversary year.

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