It has been a week and I can reassure you that Daniele Abbado’s new production of Nabucco is near instantly forgettable. The set being at most three tones of grey, the costumes being ill fitting, anonymous suits and dresses in near matching grey with small touches of muted blue and green.
Verdi’s score and the subject matter full of Babylonian excess and Hebrew strife being reduced to a dull, dusty cat litter tray with some standing stones made of MDF and textured to look like concrete, a pit of fire and some dull looking oversized mesh sculptures. Any visual references to Peter Eisenman’s Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin were not exploited the stele could have been for all we knew stand ins for a latent 2001 Kubrick vision. But even the terribly trite and monolithic set is no contest for the approximate movement and lack of dramatic engagement the direction brings to the work.
The individual characters are as hollow as the standing stones with the singers’ dramatic engagement having the depth of the shallow dusty grey sand. There seems to be no attempt into any relationships being built, love, passion, intrigue, patriotism go unexplored and scene after scene we are treated to a static park and bark style that seems so old fashioned and out of place. He curiously flattens the drama to a shallow uninvolving parade of bodies that lack purpose and impact. As the curtain rose to another inclined stage (directors love them, singers loathe them) complete with the vapours of dry ice, nothing much happened till the curtain came down 2 hours and 40 minutes later.
The use of the video screen, covering most of the background of the set was alternating from a simulation of outdoor light conditions and some dull re-enactments of stage action and aerial views of the set. The only moment the video projection added an iota of excitement was in the last section when the idols are smashed (flimsy chicken wire constructions in this production taken apart) and the projection turns all jumpy and liberated from having to reflect what is happening in front of it. The lack of use for such a prominent feature in this production was one of the many unanswered questions that Abbado’s production leaving behind. The video being a particular useless add on as instead of adding dynamism it just perpetuated the tedium by mirroring it.
Now if the singing had been universally great and world class this park and bark production could have had an aspect that could be enjoyed. Monastyrska, Pizzolato and Nucci being the only ones that added any nuance and power. The rest of the cast was having a bad night, particularly Kowaljow sounding dry and forced. Thank heavens Nicola Luisotti’s conducting was brisk if slightly too polite at times. He managed to coax a lot of sublime moments from the orchestra, especially some very fine cello playing in the Second Part. He alluded to the grandeur redolent in the score but sadly distinctly missing from this production.
Abbado allowed the chorus to take centre stage during their moment in the spotlight in Part Three and they gave us a spirited performance of Va Pensiero that finished with a floating pianissimo that our Abigaille would kill for. Liudmyla Monastryrska surely has a very imposing stage presence and a wonderful top range but the notable lack of ability to float pianissimi and her odd sounding chest voice made her performance at times thrilling but also a series of disappointing stop starts. Her Anch’io dischiuso un giorno started in a fairly tentative fashion, totally not in tune with the trench being set on fire while she awkwardly tries to light it stiffly with a torch. The concluding cabaletta Salgo già del trono aurato was much better with her incisive enunciation and sharp delivery adding frisson and some shading to the character of this arrivistic young woman.
Leo Nucci has been for years the third choice baritone for most European opera houses and despite his impressive stamina (he is 70 after all) he did not excite me too much…unlike a bunch of Italians nearby that were screeching bravo every time he opened his mouth. But even the most charismatic, sweetly voiced singer would have trouble trying to radiate authority early on and mental frailty in the conclusion in this stolid production.
Marianna Pizzolato used her radiant tone to great effect for her prayer Oh dischiuso è il firmamento in Part Four and overall offered the most satisfying singing of the evening, despite the most unflattering wardrobe to grace the ROH since Robert Le Diable. Lets hope we will see her again soon in London and in bigger parts. Her deep chest voice, steady top and colourful tone were a source of joy.
This was one of those totally dry and dull productions that seem to create an instant argument against co-productions between major opera houses. I have no idea how it went down in Milan but can’t imagine the Italians would have warmed up to the lack of a central idea and purpose for this staging. This production did not tell us anything about Nabucco and the chest beating essays about exile in the programme had me beating my own chest on the way out wondering why was Abbado allowed another go at Nabucco especially when his contribution was this dull and cold.