Nabucco is a difficult opera to pull out. Although it is considered to be Verdi’s first truly “Verdian” opera, it is rather a torso of a Verdian opera. Without a truly commited approach from all involved, its many uneffective passages drain the dramatic power of the whole performance. The Bavarian State Opera has a good start – its orchestra has a truly rich and beautiful sound, with individual instrumental solos expressively performed. Conductor Paolo Carignani knows the value of forward movement, of theatrical atmosphere and structural clarity. It is truly a pity that he often gets overemphatic when percussion is involved, thus disfiguring his otherwise masterly balance. This prestigious opera house also has a very good chorus. Unfortunately, it took a while to warm from a messy opening number. It would eventually offer a sensitive account of the opera’s signature number, the choir Va pensiero, with perfectly blended voices and delicate accompaniment by the orchestra.
When it comes to the cast, we should speak rather of miscasting than casting. The performance’s prima donna, for example. Alessandra Rezza has truly interesting material – her voice is well focused, spontaneously bright-toned as only Italian sopranos can be, her divisions are really accurate, she has excellent diction, knows how to make use of the text and also has some charisma. However, Abigaille is such a heavy role for her voice that all those assets could not make into something really acceptable. Although her low notes are focused and not thrown on chest voice, she had hard time trying to make them run into the auditorium; some of her acuti were not truly on pitch and she had to chop her phrasing to make to the end of many a testing passage. I understand that maybe because of her weight, it might be difficult to cast her as something like Violetta or Donna Anna, but that is what she should be singing for a while before she tried Abigaille. When it comes to Stefan Kocán’s Zaccaria, I can only say that the role shows him in such disadvantage that it seems as if a comprimario had stood in for an ailing soloist. Finally, Aleksandr Antonenko does not have a problem with heaviness, but with lightness. Although his tenor is not as beefy as his recent casting as Otello might suggest, his is a big, penetrating quality – it only lacks Italian mellow legato and the role did not sound congenial as it should.
As it is, the really valid performance of this evening was Paolo Gavanelli’s Nabucco. Although his baritone has its squeezed-up and throaty moments, it is a spacious voice with considerable tonal variety. Lyric passages are expressively handled and his high mezza voce is a real treasure in his vulnerable approach to Nabucco. The lovely Daniela Sindram was also positively cast as Fenena. Although her mezzo has this German plushness, she has solid low notes and charm to spare.
I have been writing a lot about production in my recent reviews, but Yannis Kokkos is so inoffensive in its geometrical uneventfulness that it is not really worth writing about it. I know I am picky sometimes – but I am convinced that a staging has to make sense, even if one finally does not agree with that sense. Here we have the Jewish people represented as if during World War II, but the babylonians are dressed as characters from Die Zauberflöte. The coup-de-grâce: while singing Va, pensiero, the chorus is behind a barbed-wire fence, while Zaccaria is on the other side. Suddenly, he has an inspiration and finds a way to get in. The 1,000,000 question – if there is an unguarded way in to get behind the fence, why don’t they just get out?!