Monday 17 January 2022

Plenty to enjoy: Verdi's Nabucco returns to Covent Garden

Verdi: Nabucco - Amartuvshin Enkhbat, Liudmyla Monastyrska - Royal Opera House, 2022 (Photo Bill Cooper)
Verdi: Nabucco - Amartuvshin Enkhbat, Liudmyla Monastyrska - Royal Opera House, 2022 (Photo Bill Cooper)

Verdi Nabucco; Liudmyla Monastyrska, Amartuvshin Enkhbat, Alexander Vinogradov, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya, Najmiddin Mavlyanov, Renato Balsadonna; Royal Opera House

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 14 January 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Still on cracking form, Nabucco returns with a strong musical cast

It was going to feature Anna Netrebko as Abigaille with Daniel Oren conducting and cameras were to be there to capture the evening. In the event, Friday 14 January 2022's performance of Verdi's Nabucco at the Royal Opera House, featured Liudmyla Monastyrska as Abigaille with conductor Renato Balsadonna, plus Amartuvshin Enkhbat as Nabucco, Alexander Vinogradov as Zaccaria, Vasilisa Berzhanskaya as Fenena, Najmiddin Mavlyanov as Ismaele. So that is a cast made up of one Ukrainian, one Mongolian, two Russians, and one Uzbekistani, which perhaps gives an indication of where the big Verdi voices are coming from at the moment. And we must be grateful that the performance happened at all, some performances in December had to be cancelled and on the first night the chorus sang in masks, so all credit to everyone for making this happen.

And there was plenty to enjoy; musically this was a very strong performance, in the traditional grand manner (and nothing wrong with that). No one was interested in exploring the ideas of musical scale in this music, that Verdi's early operas were written for smaller venues than modern opera house. Instead, we had large scale drama, the singers taking the space that Daniele Abbado's 2013 production gives them and running with it. We had seen the production in 2016 (with Monastyrska as Abigaille and conducted by Balsadonna, see my review) and she remains extremely impressive in the role of Abigaille, getting her big voice around the notes and relishing the register changes. This is a richly vibratoed instrument, and the big moments were fulsome indeed, but she fined things down beautifully for the more intimate scenes and crowned it with a crackingly subtle death scene. Over and above this was the sheer physical relish that she brought to the role, from the strong woman first entry to the delightful little twirl of joy she gives in Act Three when getting the better of her father.

Luckily, Nabucco was played in strong, ideal form by Amartuvshin Enkhbat who combined the right sort of wide-ranging Verdi baritone voice with a willingness to do subtle, so that he managed to encompass the character's remarkable journey from nasty conqueror to demented old man to reformed King. And there was plenty of fine singing too. Enkhbat didn't attempt to do too much, this was not a highly physical performance, yet he has a way of taking ownership of the space. Having seen this, I started stacking up the other early Verdi roles I'd like to hear him in. Attila anyone?

Alexander Vinogradov was a serious, sober Zaccaria. He didn't chew the scenery, instead he gave us an object lesson in Verdian bel canto and managed to anchor every scene that he was in. The two lovers are rather under cooked in this opera (and the production doesn't really help). Vasilisa Berzhanskaya impressed as Fenena, and you wanted to hear her in a meaty role. Najmiddin Mavlyanov looked the part as Ismaele and sounded stylish, but he didn't quite grab the drama and you have to in this role because Verdi gives the tenor so little air time.

There were strong supporting performances from three members of the Jette Parker Young Artists, Blaise Malaba as the High Priest, April Koyejo-Audiger as Anna and Andres Presno as Abdallo.

Whilst I still enjoyed Alison Chitty's abstract designs, the production remains a little frustrating in that it is so grey and beige. This was the first time that we had seen the videos properly and whilst they did add to the atmosphere, there was little in the way of colour. And whilst it might have made economic sense to keep the chorus in the same costumes throughout, this means that there is no differentiation between aggressors and victims, or perhaps that is the idea, that both are the same.

The orchestra played well for Renato Balsadonna who displays a fine sense of pacing in this music, and the chorus was on terrific form.

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