Daniele Abbado’s production of Verdi’s Nabucco, recorded at Covent Garden in 2013 was the vehicle for Placido Domingo taking on yet another Verdi baritone role. It’s set in the 1940’s because, Jews. At least it’s costumed that way because nothing else about the production has any kind of sense of time or place. It’s virtually monochrome and quite abstract. The Temple is represented by a set of upright rectangular blocks which are toppled at the appropriate moment. The idol of Baal is a sort of wire frame that comes apart rather undramatically and so on. There’s also nothing in the direction to suggest any kind of concept. It’s quite straightforward with rather a lot of “park and bark”. There’s some use of video projections behind and above the action but it’s rather hard to figure them out on video as they tend to appear in shot rather fleetingly.
So, a lot rests on the performances, which are strong. Domingo will never convince me he’s a Verdi baritone but he is a powerful stage presence. He manages the transitions between the different “personalities” of Nabucco; vengeful king, senile nutter, repentant sinner, about as convincingly as one could hope for while singing with great musicality. The star of the show though is Ludmila Monastyrska as Abigaille. She is riveting. Dramatically she’s completely convincing but it’s her singing that really stands out. This is a role where Verdi is still using the whole bel canto bag of tricks but asking for more besides. She combines power, flexibility and sheer beauty of tone in a spell binding way. It’s a truly great performance.
There are also fine performances from Vitalij Kowaljow as Zaccaria and Robert Lloyd as a rather professorial High Priest of Baal. Marianna Pizzolata is fine as Fenena but is rather overshadowed by Monastyrska. Nicola Liusotti conducts. He’s a Verdi specialist and he’s got an orchestra and chorus here that are well versed in that music. It all sounds well paced and appropriate though at times it is Verdi at his rumpty-tumptiest. That’s not the conductor’s fault!
Rhodri Huw directed for video. There are some rather odd camera angles and I would have like to see more of the videos but it’s a serviceable effort backed up by a good modern DVD picture and solid DTS surround sound. The stereo track is fine too. There are a few extras on the disk. There’s a feature called Verdi’s First Masterpiece which is worth a look and not very exciting interviews with Domingo and Monastyrska. The booklet contains a synopsis and a track listing but nowhere is there anything that gives any insight into the production. Subtitle options are English, French, Italian and German.
I guess this is a must for Domingo completists and it’s worth a look for Monastyrska’s performance but the production is a bit dull and there’s no Blu-ray. It seems very odd that Sony, the label that issued this disk, don’t seem to do Blu-ray given they were one of the pioneers of the format. So it goes.