Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lyric Opera of Chicago - Nabucco - January 27, 2016

     I have seen Nabucco three times now, but never live until last night at Lyric Opera of Chicago and I have to say that it was a wonderful experience.  Not only was the opera and performance musically wonderful, but the production was also very enjoyable.  This is probably the most enjoyable LOC opera I have seen for a while.
     Nabucco is very early Verdi and he is still bound to the forms of bel canto.  But there is still much that is distinctly Verdian - his use of the chorus, for example, I think is quite unique and remarkable. Not only does the chorus comment on the action but the chorus IS a character in the action of the plot.  And the LOC chorus was really remarkable last night.  From the softest pianissimos to the loudest fortissimos the chorus was always vibrant and solid.  And the famous chorus "Va pensiero" was one of the highlights of the entire performance.  The chorus is worth the price of admission alone.  But they are not alone.  The cast is also outstanding.  I have had the wonderful opportunity to have experienced Zeljko Lucic before in several productions streamed in HD or on the radio, but this is the first time I have experienced him live and it was a memorable experience.  He has a gorgeous voice - so sweet and warm.  He can spin out a line so beautifully and then when he wants to he adds the power.  He is a brilliant artist.  But his colleagues were equal to him - Dmitry Belosselskiy was outstanding as Zaccaria the High Priest as was Sergei Skorokhodov as Ismaele.  Tatiana Serjan was equally outstanding in the demanding role of Abigaille, as was Elizabeth DeShong as Fenena. Rounding it all out Carlo Rizzi had complete control of the excellent orchestra.  And I have to give a shout out to Bob Morgan - English Horn, Calum Cook - cello and Marie Tachouet - Flute.  These artists had wonderful solo moments and played beautifully.
     The production was really interesting.  I loved the color scheme and I loved the fact that especially with the Babylonians each and every costume was a little different.  The set was not complex, but the stark colors made it work and I enjoyed the device of the juxtaposition of the Hebrew and Cuneiform texts.  From an action standpoint the opera is a little static, but it did not bother me and I prefer that extra action is not imposed for the sake of having more action.    The only criticism is that in this day and age it is hard to understand why it takes so long to change the set between scenes.  But I did note that LOC has started a capital campaign to raise money to update their equipment so maybe this will solve the problem
     All in all - I loved Nabucco! It was a great night at the opera. Having said that I cannot end without saying that in general my experience with the audience was certainly better than in the past, which has been very, very negative.  But still it was quirky.  From the 4 Russian women with the strong perfume who could not figure out where to sit, even though they were standing in front of 4 empty seats, to the guy a few rows in front of us who kept recording parts of the opera and taking photos with his phone (even though he had the screen light almost at zero it was still visible) to - my personal favorite - the mother/daughter who sat in front of the Russian women for the first act but moved over in front of us for act 2 because the perfume was too strong and how was it possible that these women had no sensitivity to others!  But yet the daughter (a women in her 40's) nevertheless wore a hat that one had to look around and seemed totally oblivious to the fact that really, all things considered, wearing a hat that blocks the view of those behind is much more obnoxious than wearing perfume.
     Lastly - I realize that one should never try to learn history from opera libretti.  And that opera plots are usually notoriously bad history.  In fact, I can't think of a single opera where the historical plot gets the history right completely.  But Nabucco is particularly bad history.  I was really surprised actually that the libretto kept referring to the Babylonians as Assyrians.  No! That is not correct! Nabucco or Nebuchadrezzar is NOT an Assyrian King, nor is Abigaille an Assyrian Princess.  The Assyrians were a completely different empire who were defeated by the Babylonians.  The Assyrians attacked and destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in and about 720 BCE - the Babylonians then overran and defeated the Assyrians and eventually attacked and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE. The Babylonians themselves were defeated and replaced in 539 BCE by the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus the Great.  It was Cyrus who repatriated the Judean exiles back to Palestine and allowed them to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple.  The opera Nabucco gets all of this wrong.  In addition, there is no evidence that the historical Nabucco suffered from mental illness or that he converted to Judaism.  The book of Daniel in the Old Testament includes both, but Daniel was written during the Greek period much, much later and is generally considered to be a-historical. Lastly, I found it rather funny to see Abigaille waving around a letter and then ripping the letter up. They would not have had paper during the Babylonian times.  They used clay tablets.  Anyway, this is pretty picky and doesn't detract from the incredible beauty of the opera's music or the outstanding production and singing.  But it is a reminder that it is best not to get one's history from the theater.  It is a nice encouragement to explore, but whether it is Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti or even Shakespeare the point is really not historical accuracy.  With opera it is about the emotions, the fears, the feelings of loss which are conveyed so gloriously by the music.

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