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Verdi’s Nabucco - Saturday, January 25, 2014, Florida Grand Opera, Arsht Center

I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed Nabucco even though I’m not a fan of religious-themed subjects.  The opera is loosely based on the conquering of the Israelites and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar.  The stage design was quite impressive and interesting with details of the Assyrian bas relief lions.  The costuming was very good at approximating the clothing of that time period.  A little more than disconcerting, however, was the Babylonian army dressed as Roman centurions.  I suspect it was a cost savings to recycle some old costumes. 

This was opening night, and as such, was a little uneven.  Zaccaria’s hat almost fell off, but he recovered it nicely.  At first, I thought Zaccaria (Kevin Short), the high priest of Israel was miscast as well as the role Nabucco (Dario Solari).  I thought they should have exchanged roles.  However, as they warmed up in the first act (four acts with two intermissions) I can see why they were cast as they were. 

Perhaps the most impossible role was Abigaille (Maria Guleghina) as the princess/slave girl/second daughter of Nabucco.  Most works of Verdi I have heard are perfectly fit for sopranos, and I’ve been told sopranos love to sing Verdi.  However, the range required of Abigaille in this role was taxing, almost extending downward more towards the male range.  Ms. Guleghina did an excellent job of this trying role but there were times she struggled with some of the lower notes. 

Another role that threw me for was Ismaele sung by Martin Nusspaumer.  He has a beautiful tenor voice but I expected more of an alto for that role.  However, his scenes with Abigaille and Fenena were quite beautiful.

The story line has Fenena (first daughter of Nabucco) as captive of the Israelites and hostage to prevent the sacking of the temple.  Ismaele, who was ambassador to Babylon, and who was imprisoned but freed by Fenena is in love with her and prevents her from being killed by Zaccaria.  A touching scene is where Abigaille confronts Fenena and Isamele and she also declares her love for Ismaele who rejects her for Fenena.  Enter Nabucco and begin the sacking and razing of the temple with the enslavement of the Israelites. 

In the end, Nabucco is stunned by a lightening bolt and is replaced as king by Abigaille.  After finding God, Nabucco promises, if restored to his kingdom, to free the Israelites and have them rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.  Abigaille poisons herself and Fenena and Ismaele live happily ever after. 

The opera is best known for the chorus of Hebrews along the banks of the Euphrates singing what is known as “Va pensiero.”  This opera was Verdi’s first really successful opera and it was possibly in part to the subject matter (oppression of the Israelites by Babylon) and Italy trying to throw off the partition of Italy by the Holy Roman Empire and uniting under King Emanuel.  The program notes suggest “Va pensiero” became the unofficial national anthem of Italy.  After the performance of the piece by the orchestra, the conductor stopped the performance and invited the audience to sing along with the chorus.  It was well done.  Our group was particularly impressed by someone in the rear of us who had a great baritone and apparently was classically trained.  Needless to say, he knew the words by heart.  At first, we thought it was being broadcast by the PA system, but it became obvious it was the baritone behind us.  It’s the first time I’ve been asked to sing along at an opera!

The image is from the Florida Grand Opera website.

© Fred Searcy 2017