FGO’s ‘Nabucco’ Gets By on Golden Wings
By his own account, Verdi was not all that interested in composing Nabucco. In his Autobiographical Sketch, he wrote that when Bartolomeo Merelli, then manager of La Scala, brought him the libretto, he threw it indifferently on a table. As it landed, though, the book opened to the page with the line “Va, pensiero, sull’alli dorate” (Go, thought, on golden wings) — the first line of what would become the opera’s famous chorus, sung by the Hebrew slaves who yearn to return to their homeland. After reading that line, Verdi claimed he couldn’t put the book down. Unfortunately, the same peace with Nabucco is not shared here. The opera that solidified Verdi’s reputation as a leading composer of his time, sounds like an amorphous cloud of oom-pas. It’s not sublime, transcendental Verdi, like his later works Aida or Otello. It’s not even pop Verdi, like La Traviata, or musically and dramatically innovative Verdi like Macbeth or Don Carlos. Aside from one, maybe two arias — like Abigaille’s “Anch’io dischiuso un giorno” — and that famous chorus of Hebrew slaves, “Va, pensiero,” Nabucco falls short of a great work, let alone a masterpiece. Florida Grand Opera’s 2014 production did not change that opinion, even though opening night, Sat., January 25, was a fine performance. The orchestra and chorus especially shined, playing and singing with natural musicality. Local talent made good with the supporting roles. Miami-resident Kevin Short gave a stately rendition of the high priest Zaccaria, with a heart-felt “Tu sul labbro,” his prayer aria in the second act. A very pleasant surprise was Miami native Mabel Ledo as the Assyrian-turned-Jewish princess, Fenena, with a warm and lush performance of “O dischius’è il firmamento” in act four. Conductor Ramon Tebar kept it all together with his customary authority and energy. But Uruguayan baritone Dario Solari lacked commanding presence as the warrior king, Nabucco: his acting remained the same whether he was leading troops into battle or doddering with dementia. His voice grew tired as the performance went on, almost cracked in the fourth act. Though Nabucco is the title character, the opera belongs to his rival for the throne, Abigaille. Maria Guleghina has owned this nearly impossible role with mind-blowing performances such as one on DVD during The Met’s 2002 season. On Saturday, she thrilled the audience with her swagger and a few robust high notes. But too often, her voice had trouble moving smoothly from soaring heights to searing depths. By the end, she could hardly be heard. The shortcomings of the singers were compounded by the staging, which was at times unintentionally comic. Thaddeus Strassberger’s set crowded the performers, restricting their movement and perhaps even wreaking havoc with the acoustics: behind an invisible line on stage, it seemed that the singers’ voices got lost among the simulated columns and velvet curtains. This made the ensembles sound unbalanced. Stage director Leigh Holman set the nearly 40-person chorus in a series of tableaux, having them change position mechanically, almost like figures on a foosball table. Would-be violent confrontations came off as light-weight, lightning bolts from the heavens looked more like flashlight beams, and the less said about the stroking of a blatantly artificial snake, the better. But “Va, pensiero,” the chorus that convinced Verdi, worked its magic once again. The choir sang this stirring piece impeccably. During the encore of the chorus that traditionally follows, the audience was not only invited to sing along, but Maestro Tebar turned around to face the house as he conducted. A nice touch. ‘Nabucco’ performances continue on January 29, 31, and February 1 at 8:00 p.m. at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arst, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; and on February 6 and 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets range from $11 to $129; www.fgo.org.