Monday 19 June 2017

A satisfying evening: Verdi's Nabucco from Chelsea Opera Group

Verdi Nabucco; David Kempster, David Soar, Helena Dix, Peter Auty, Chelsea Opera Group, Gianluca Marciano; Cadogan Hall
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on Jun 17 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Verdi's first big success in a concert performance from Chelsea Opera Grouop

"With this opera, it can be truly said that my artistic career began". So wrote Verdi after Nabucco’s triumphant reception. Solera’s libretto is very loosely based on the books of Jeremiah and Daniel; all of the characters other than Nabucco himself are inventions. The rousing score, full of biblical grandeur, is an epic tale of love, jealousy and the pursuit of power - isn’t it always. Set against the oppression and subsequent exile of the Jews, it’s now best known for the chorus “Va pensiero” which, stoked by Verdi himself, has attained a certain mythos.

Chelsea Opera Group's concert performance of Nabucco at Cadogan Hall on Saturday 17 June 2017 was conducted by Gianluca Marciano with David Kempster (Nabucco), Helena Dix (Abigaille), Peter Auty (Ismaele), David Soar (Zaccaria), and Clare Presland (Fenena).

Verdi’s interest in power and the relationships between father and daughter makes for a curiously lop-sided drama; the young lovers Fenena and Ismaele the catalyst for the subsequent power play are merely a side show. All the heavy lifting is done by Abigaille, Nabucco, Zaccaria and the chorus.

Having not previously seen a performance by the Chelsea Opera Group, I confess to having wondered how the chorus would give voice to the expressive demands of the work. They can be justifiably proud of what they achieved this Saturday at the Cadogan Hall. Some vocal weaknesses were exposed on a few occasions but when it really mattered they rose to the challenge. “Va pensiero” in particular was precise, expressive and at the final a cappella chord truly affecting. Chorus Master Sonia Ben-Santamaria’s seemingly reluctant bow, at the conductor’s insistence, was richly deserved. Gianluca Marciano clearly enjoyed the evening, his stirring conducting gave the piece passion and drama although there were moments when the dynamic contrast was lost in all the excitement.

David Kempster (Nabucco) in fine voice, even toned, moving easily from top to bottom with a lovely ring at the top appeared curiously disengaged from the words. The dramatic “non son piu Re, son Dio” I am King no more, I am God was distinctly underwhelming. Peter Auty had an ardent tone as Ismaele but there was little opportunity for anything more. David Soar’s Zaccaria fared better, his sonorous bass giving gravitas to his pronouncements and even venom as he spat out “Insano! …a terra cad ail tuo pazzo orgoglio!”. On this evidence though I would certainly concur with Callas’s observation that Nabucco apart from the beautiful music is also “a big bore”.

Thank goodness then for Helena Dix’s sharply drawn Abigaille. At times menacing and finally heart-rending; she relished the demands of the role, zipping around the stave with ease and passion and then beautifully poised and restrained for “Anch’io un giorno”. “Non maledire a me!” – well, I wouldn’t damn her.

Something of a curate’s egg then, not revelatory but a satisfying evening with the music’s beauty enthusiastically received.

Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Verdi - Nabucco
Chelsea Opera Group
Saturday 17 June 2017
Cadogan Hall
David Kempster (Nabucco)
Helena Dix (Abigaille)
Peter Auty (Ismaele)
David Soar (Zaccaria)
Clare Presland (Fenena)
Emily Blanch (Anna)
John Vallance (Abdallo)
David Ireland (Il Gran Sacerdote di Belo)
Chorus Master : Sonia Ben-Santamaria
Conductor : Gianluca Marciano

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