OPERA NEWS - Nabucco
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In Review > North America


Pittsburgh Opera

IN VERDI'S TIME, the Babylonian persecution of the Jews in Nabucco was a metaphor for the oppression of the Milanese under Austrian rule and the desire for Italian unification. For Pittsburgh Opera’s production (seen Oct. 10), stage director Bernard Uzan chose to emphasize the story’s parallels with persecution of Jews through the ages. The attractive set, co-designed by Uzan and Michael Baumgarten, used blocks and cubes, with a film screen upstage center projecting images that ranged from biblical scenes to the Holocaust and beyond. In the staging itself, Uzan was less imaginative. The principals—none of them particularly good actors—postured with outstretched hands, or kneeled or rolled on the floor to express their anguish. The chorus, which sang with accuracy and resonance as prepared by Mark Trawka, was held immobile for much of its time on stage.

Antony Walker kept the musical element lively and for the most part in sync, balancing the driving rhythms of the Overture’s oom-pah tune with a lyrical reading of the “Va, pensiero” theme. Nabucco requires top-level vocalism to make its points, however, and the singing in this production was high-powered but wildly uneven.

Mark Delavan is a genuine Verdi baritone, with all the requisite power and range. As Nabucco, he took time to warm up, but proclaimed his dictum against the Jews with fearsome force. He delineated with conviction the varying emotions of his confrontation with Abigaille, and in his prison scene aria evoked something of the pathos we might associate with Rigoletto’s “Cortigiani.” 

The Abigaille, Hungarian soprano Csilla Boross, has a voice that can generate excitement by its formidable volume and breadth. She has a sensational high C, and reasonable strength at the low end of the scale. In between, however, her scale is uneven, the tone quality unpredictable, lacking line or consistent support. Her gran scena with the priests alternated thrilling top notes with blurred fioritura, often within the same phrase, and she failed to impart meaning to the text. For much of her time on stage, this singer seemed awkward and ungainly, never quite getting into the character or situation at hand. 

For sheer musicality and attention to nuance, the honors went to Oren Gradus, who intoned the lines of the Hebrew high priest Zaccharia with resonant legato and eloquence of manner. His first scene cavatina was particularly moving, on a level of expressivity not matched by any of his fellow cast members. Tenor Raymond Very (Ismaele) and mezzo Laurel Semerdjian (Fenena) provided the opera’s underdeveloped love interest with sweet tone and pleasant demeanor, while incoming resident artist Matthew Scollin made an impression with his striking bass sound and commanding presence as the high priest of Baal.  —Robert Croan

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