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Marquee TV – VERDI: NABUCCO – Review

NABUCCOMarquee TV is a subscription arts channel offering high quality, opera, dance and drama on demand.

Their latest release is Verdi’s 1842 opera Nabucco, telling the Old Testament story of Nebuchadnezzar who proclaims himself God. This was Verdi’s third opera and by far his most successful so far, stirring up thoughts of independence and republicanism in those who saw it. In many ways, this is an ideal introduction to opera for the uninitiated, as it has many choruses and superb melodies, such as the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves, which, in Arnaud Bernard’s production, is encored.

Bernard sets his opera not in ancient Babylon, but in nineteenth-century Italy, the Hebrews becoming Italians and the Assyrians/Babylonians representing the Austrian oppressors. This works well enough much of the time unless one is following the English translation of the Italian libretto, which has not been altered, and therefore what is being sung is at times incongruous compared with what is happening on stage!

The Arena di Verona, where this production was staged in August 2017, is a vast First Century amphitheatre, originally seating 30,000, but today limited to 15,000 people, most of whom sit on cold stone benches a long way from the vast stage. One of the advantages of this videoed production is that you can see everything in much more detail than is ever possible in the arena itself.

George Gagnidze is Nabucco: he has an imposing figure and dominates the stage when he needs to as well as possessing a hard-edged baritone which is appropriate to the character the director has him playing. He is most impressive in the scenes where he has lost his reason.

Ishmael the Hebrew (Italian) is forcefully sung by Rubens Pelizzari. He has the stamina for the role which a venue such as Verona demands and possesses a ringing tenor. He is in love with Fenena, the Assyrian(Austrian) Nabucco’s younger daughter. She has a rich mezzo-soprano voice and is clearly ‘at home’ in her role and on this stage.

Nabucco’s elder and illegitimate child Abigaille is sung by Susanna Branchini. Her voice lacks subtlety – perhaps that is not possible in the large space at Verona – and whilst her acting may look convincing from a distance, close up on video she just seems to overdo everything, and has certain mannerisms such as an inability to be still and a tendency to look down at the stage rather than out to the audience. The voice also noticeably tires before the end of Act Three.

Nabucco, is, above all, a ‘chorus’ opera and here I can go only give praise. The director uses his large forces inventively from the start of the overture right up until the finale where Abigaille gets what she deserves!

Design is by Allessandro Camera who has set the opera around La Scala in Milan where five days of riots took place in March 1848. It is on a revolve so that the stage picture can be altered as required.

Daniel Oren conducts an impressive, powerful, performance, one which I have certainly enjoyed watching. Recommended – though perhaps not if you are ‘new’ to this opera: you may wish to see a more traditional production first!

4 stars

Review by John Groves

On Saturday 18 July Marquee TV will debut Nabucco, a lesser-known opera by Verdi but one that established his reputation as a composer. First performed at the famous Teatro alla Scala in 1842, this opera was conceived during the Risorgimento, a time of social and political ferment which led to the unification of Italy. The original composition is set in biblical times but in this production, French director Arnaud Bernard boldly transposes the action back into Italian Risorgimento, going as far as to centre the entire piece within the context of the uprisings of 1848 – and within the Teatro alla Scala itself.

This performance, conducted by Israeli-born master Daniel Oren, comes from the iconic Arena di Verona. Soprano Susanna Branchini steals the stage as Nabuchodonosor’s daughter Abigaille – a role for whom Verdi wrote his most challenging score, a lyrical epic that has a place in the hearts of all Italians.

For the full programme visit www.marquee.tv

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Author

  • John Groves

    John Groves studied singing with Robert Easton and conducting with Clive Timms. He was lucky enough to act in the British premiere of a Strindberg play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe more years ago than he cares to remember, as well as singing at the Royal Opera House - once! He taught drama and music at several schools, as well as examining the practical aspects of GCSE and A level drama for many years. For twenty five years he has conducted a brass band as well as living on one of the highest points of East Sussex surrounded by woodland, deer, foxes and badgers, with kites and buzzards flying overhead.

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