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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Nabucco

The Met revives its production of Verdi's first hit.
The Met's staging of Nabucco. Photo by Marty Sohl. © 2011 The Metropolitan Opera.
Italian audiences yearning to breathe free loved Verdi's opera chronicling the Jews' escape from Chaldea and the eventual conversion of King Nebachudnezzar (the titular "Nabucco.") Nabucco was Verdi's third opera, and his first success. Although the work is not as polished as later masterpieces from the composer of Aida and Rigoletto, it crackles with raw energy and enthusiasm.

The fame of Nabucco rests largely on the back of the famous chorus "Va, pensiero", which became the unofficial theme of the Risorgimento, the movement to unify the Italian peninsula in the 19th century. It still serves as a sort of second Italian national anthem, and was recently sung at La Scala as a protest against government cuts to the arts. Here, Željko Lucic sings the title role in a revival of Elijah Moshinsky's production.
Nabucco opens on Sept. 27.

Recordings Recommendations:
Vienna State Opera Orchestra cond. Lamberto Gardelli (London, 1965)
Nabucco: Tito Gobbi
Abagaille: Elena Souliotis
Zaccaria: Carlo Cava

Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin cond. Giuseppe Sinopoli (DG, 1984)
Nabucco: Piero Capuccili
Abagaille: Ghena Dimitrova
Zaccaria: Evgeny Nesterenko

Philharmonia Orchestra cond. Riccardo Muti (EMI, 1986)
Nabucco: Mateo Managuerra
Abagaille: Renata Scotto
Zaccaria: Nicolai Ghauriov

There are three studio recordings of Nabucco. The first is in crisp Decca sound from the 1960s, with Tito Gobbi in the title role, a good supporting cast and a reliable Verdian in Lamberto Gardelli.

The Berlin recording features the great baritone Piero Capuccili in the lead. Sinopoli's sometimes unpredictable approach to the music is always entertaining. The tiny tenor part features an in-his-prime Placìdo Domingo.

Finally, Riccardo Muti conducts a great "Va, pensiero." for EMI. The drawbacks: a lesser Nabucco in Mateo Managuerra and a weak pair of ladies, with a faded Renata Scotto and the odd casting of Elena Obraztova as Fenena.
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