At LA Opera, Verdi's "Nabucco" is a grand production
by Elijah Moshinsky. It's not really set in any particular period and is, essentially,
a study in black, white, and red. The costumes range from traditional Assyrian
garb, to Fenena's circa 2002 red formfitting gown with bare shoulders and frontal
straps. The sets are simple, angular, and very effective. The cast is first
rate, especially the female roles and the Russian bass of Arutjun Kotchinian's
Zaccaria. His is the first solo voice that emerges from the opening chorus,
as he's revealed standing at the top of the pedestal, leading the Hebrews to
stand firm against the advancing Assyrians of Nabucco. Zaccaria is the steadfast
pillar of hope for the Hebrews, from the sacking of the Temple to the impending
execution of the chorus and Fenena.
The Hebrews are all in black and white, with the hostage princess
Ferena in bright red. Red light flashes as cannons are heard with Nabucco's
approach. Abigaille enters in armor to conquer the temple. She really wants
Ismaele, who is in love with her sister, Fenena, who stands haughtily at the
front staring daggers. Ismaele rejects her, as Nabucco and his army enter and
sack the temple. He and his soldiers are all in red; red spears protrude from
the walls, and soldiers at the back thrust forward with red spears for an extremely
martial effect. The black and white of the Hebrews' costumes makes them look
simple and pious in contrast to the hedonistic red of the Assyrians.
In Act 2, Abigaille finds herself to be actually the daughter
of slaves. Fenena has been named regent, but after she frees the Hebrews, a
faction approaches Abigaille to be their ruler. She revels in her power to work
her lust for vengeance, as the soldiers have spread the rumor that Nabucco has
been killed. Fenena takes the crown, but Abigaille grabs it from her, as Nabucco
bursts in. He rejects both Baal and Jehovah, and proclaims himself God. As thunder
and lightning strike, everyone falls to the ground and everything is bathed
In Act 3, Abigaille has claimed the throne in Nabucco's illness.
He enters the room and furious, mounts his throne to throw her down. She resists,
and he is forced to sign the order for the execution of the Hebrews and Fenena,
before being taken off to prison. The Hebrew chorus resembles a concentration
camp as they prepare to die. Nabucco raves in his prison, which is the set from
the first act, stripped of all adornment. He rejects the Assyrian god, Baal,
accepts the Jewish God, Jehovah, and is rescued by his troops. He dons his armor
again, and rescues Fenena and the Hebrews, and rebuilds the temple.
"Nabucco" has some of the finest choral writing of
any opera I've ever seen. This is led by the Hebrew chorus which was sung by
thousands, spontaneously conducted by Toscanini, at Verdi's funeral. This LA
Opera cast is lead by Maria Guleghina's riveting Abigaille. It's been a long
time since I have seen her in anything, but the power and clarity of Guleghina's
voice is astounding and her acting is superb. The Fenena of Kate Aldrich is
equally powerful with remarkable strength, clarity, and beauty. I've never heard
of her before, but I fully expect to hear much more of Kate Aldrich in the future.
Lado Ataneli's Nabucco is strong, but at his best when not competing with the
One of the more interesting thoughts about this production is the occasional reference to the gleaming towers of Israel that have been reduced to ashes. Here, the Hebrews recall those, while they appeal to their God to reduce the cities of Nabucco to ashes. Over two thousand years later, it still has that same familiar sound, reduce my enemy to ashes. Maybe someday we will advance past that, and someone, from a position of power will say, we've had enough vengeance, it's time to make peace. At the end of this opera, the despicable Abigaille begs for forgiveness as she dies, and is forgiven. Maybe, someday, we, the human race, will also learn to forgive our enemies and live in peace.
Lawrence Foster conducts this excellent production of Giuseppe
Verdi's first operatic success, "Nabucco," at The Los Angeles Opera.
It continues September 18, 21, 25, and 28 at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
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