Met Opera's "Nabucco": Flying on Golden Chords

The Met Opera Chorus in "Nabucco"
(photo: Met Opera)

Nabucco, Giuseppe Verdi's most political opera, has become one of the Metropolitan Opera's most popular works in its repertoire, in large part due to the prominence given in this opera to the always-reliable Metropolitan Opera Chorus, under its Chorus Master Donald Palumbo. A piece first composed in 1841 in Italian, to a Libretto by Temistocle Solera, based on the Old Testament Books of Jeremiah and Daniel, Nabucco, only Verdi's third opera, was a hit from its inception. The story concerns the capture of the Jews and their exile to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar (which occurred in 587 B.C.E.).

The opera consists of four acts, which the Met performs in two acts with one intermission. In Act I, Jerusalem: Nabucco (tenor Placido Domingo) is attacking Jerusalem where his daughter Fenena (mezzo Jamie Barton) is held hostage by Ismaele, the Hebrew King's nephew (tenor Russell Thomas). He had previously been freed by her from being held captive himself in Babylon. Her half-sister Abigaille (soprano Liudmyla Monastyrska), who also loves Ismaele, tells him she can free the Hebrews if he professes love for her, but he refuses. Nabucco then enters the city, confronted by Zaccaria (bass Dmitry Belosselskiy), the Voice of the Hebrew people, who threatens to kill Fenena, but Ismaele disarms him and returns her to her father. Nabucco orders the temple destroyed. In Act II, The Impious One: Abigaille, back in Babylon, learns that Nabucco is not her father and that she is instead descended from slaves, so she swears vengeance on him. The High Priest of Baal (bass Sava Vemic) offers to give her the throne and spread word that Nabucco has died, so the people proclaim her their ruler. As she is about to crown herself, Nabucco arrives declaring himself king as well as god, for which he is struck by a thunderbolt, leaving Abigaille triumphant.

In Act III, The Prophecy: Nabucco, half-mad, is tricked by Abigaille into condemning the Israelites to death, including Fenena who has converted to Judaism. The Israelites dream of their former homeland in the famous “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves”, Va, pensiero, sull' ali dorate or Fly, Thought, on golden wings. This, the most famous piece in the opera, became a sort of national anthem and was spontaneously sung by crowds that massed on the occasion of Verdi's funeral, since it had become a symbol of Italy. (It was deservedly given an immediate encore at this typically fine performance, to an enthusiastic reception). In Act IV, Broken Idol : Nabucco prays (to the God of Israel, mind you) forgiveness, pledging to convert himself and the people of Babylonia. He stops the execution of the Hebrew slaves at the last minute and frees them, as Abigaille swallows poison. The Israelites and Babylonians unite in praise of the (Hebrew) God.

This performance was Conducted by James Levine, with the 2001 Production by Elijah Moshinsky, Stage Direction by J. Knighten Smit (with HD Direction by Barbara Willis Sweete), Set Design by John Napier, Costume Design by Andreane Neofitou and Lighting Design by Howard Harrison. The HD Broadcast Host was Eric Owens (who noted during an intermission interview with Domingo that this was the tenor's seventeenth Verdi role).

This production of Nabucco was excellently sung, notably by opera fan favorite Domingo and new discovery Barton (who impressed this critic in last summer's Glimmerglass Opera mounting of The Crucible. But the afternoon truly belonged to the Met Opera Chorus, who received a much-deserved standing ovation, that over-used event that seems to occur at the opening of a local supermarket. It was never more fitting than here, as, on a cold snowy afternoon, the music warmed the packed theater and braced the audience for the onslaught outside.

For those who may have missed this due to weather, there is an encore Weds. Jan.11 at 6:30pm. 

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