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Lyric Opera of Chicago

In Review Chicago Nabucco lg 416
Serjan’s sensational Abigaille in Chicago
© Cory Weaver

NABUCCO, THE MASTERPIECE of Verdi’s “galley years,” is one of those visceral pieces that pound their chests and scream “I’m an opera!” Composed in 1841, the work is admittedly steeped in early-nineteenth-century conventions that the composer soon abandoned; one may be forgiven a smile at those rows of people warbling about religious oppression in upbeat major keys while standing about doing exactly nothing. Nabucco is a whopping “big sing” though, and Lyric Opera’s terrific revival (seen Jan. 23) served up a delectable feast of vocal virtuosity.

Tatiana Serjan was sensational as Abigaille. The Russian soprano’s voluminous sound easily dominated the theater, and she soldiered through Verdi’s excruciatingly difficult writing without a hint of stridency—a remarkable feat in this role. The notorious drop of two octaves in “Ben io t’invenni” held no terrors for her, while “Salgo già dal trono aurato” climaxed in a full-throated high interpolation. Her technical arsenal also allowed for some exquisite soft singing, with particularly lovely floated pianissimos in an affecting death scene. As Nabucco, Serbian baritone Željko Lučić initially could have used an additional decibel or two, but he soon warmed up and reminded us why he has established himself as an international Verdian of choice. Lučić’s intelligently shaded “Dio di Giuda” was graced with plenty of russet-velvet tone before a full-throttled “O prodi miei, seguitemi” that brought the interlude to a thrilling conclusion.

There were two important company debuts—Dmitry Belosselskiy, whose formidable bass caressed Zaccaria’s “Tu sul labbro” quite movingly, and tenor Sergei Skorokhodov, who brought a manly presence and a brightly ringing upper register to Ismaele. Elizabeth DeShong’s refulgent mezzo appears to have grown a half size since her last appearance at Lyric, and she offered a deeply felt account of Fenena’s final prayer. Bass Stefan Szkafarowsky was the resonant High Priest. Laura Wilde and Jesse Donner contributed nicely as Anna and Abdallo.

Michael Black’s choristers outdid themselves. Opera’s greatest choral hit, “Va, pensiero,” predictably engendered a mighty roar from the house, but the chorus was superb throughout.

Michael Yeargan’s attractive settings and Jane Greenwood’s sumptuous wardrobe have only been seen once before at Lyric, in 1997. The visuals suggested a nonspecific pastiche of time periods. Massive, mobile arches and staircases, bathed in Duane Schuler’s diffused lighting, created an environment of deep blue and gold appropriate for the Israelites, which was subsequently encroached upon by a wall of red-orange spears as the Assyrian army, also clad in jarring shades of red, descended upon Jerusalem. The temple walls and scene curtain were adorned with verses from the Book of Jeremiah, courtesy of projectionist Christopher Maravich. Director Matthew Ozawa ably marshaled a cast of more than 120 people and distinguished the characters by contrasting the essentially naturalistic movement of the Hebrews with an angular, militaristic style for the Babylonians.

Milanese conductor Carlo Rizzi led an exciting, stylish reading of the complete score. The brass was in particularly fine form, at once wildly exhilarating and firmly disciplined. The cello solos were skillfully rendered by principal cellist Calum Cook. All elements considered, Lyric’s Nabucco was a vivid demonstration of what opera is all about.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson 

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