Life’s hardly a party for Abigaille in The Royal Opera’s revival of Nabucco.
As Omicron tears through London, many theatres are shutting up shop, as the number of crew and performers testing positive makes it impossible for shows to go ahead. The Royal Opera is no exception. Hours before the curtain rose on the first night of Nabucco, they announced that they’d been forced to cancel the two further performances this side of Christmas. Whilst this was a shame, nobody would take issue with such a decision given the trying times we’re living in. Or so you would think. Director of Opera Oliver Mears made a pre-performance announcement from the stage expressing his sadness at having to take this decision, but the health and wellbeing of all the staff at The Royal Opera House was paramount. To that end, and to give the chorus extra protection, it had been agreed that they would sing masked.
We’ve witnessed some deplorable behaviour at the opera house before, but none as bad as the boos that greeted Mears’ announcement from certain quarters of the theatre. Talk about entitlement! Those audience members who reacted that way should be ashamed of themselves – as if their ‘enjoyment’ was more important than the chorus’ wellbeing.
Despite being masked, the choral singing turned out to be one of the few unalloyed musical delights of the evening, crowned with a beautifully poised and moving ‘Va pensiero’. Since William Spaulding’s arrival as chorus director, they really have become the jewel in the company’s crown – roll on Peter Grimes in the Spring.
“Despite being masked, the choral singing turned out to be one of the few unalloyed musical delights of the evening…”
Otherwise, musically this evening was a bit of a mixed bag. Having waxed lyrical about the difference it made having three native Italian singers in the main roles in the recent Tosca revival, it was down to earth with a bump, as there were none in this revival of Verdi’s early biblical tale. The only singer to really embrace Verdi’s idiom, and sing with true, firm legato was Mongolian baritone Amartuvshin Enkhbat. The rest of the cast was more variable. Abigaille is a killer of a role – all those double octave leaps – and while Liudmyla Monastryska certainly hit all the notes, the tone and volume were pretty much unrelenting. Less would have been more on several occasions, but on the plus side it’s only fair to report that the role held no terrors for her. It will be interesting to see how Anna Netrebko fares when she takes over in January.
Alexander Vinogradov thundered forcefully, if unrelentingly loudly, as Zaccaria, while Vasilisa Berzhanskaya and Najmiddin Mavlyanov turned in effective performances as Fenena and Ismele. None of them were helped by Daniele Abbado’s inert staging, which lacked any meaningful personenregie – instead leaving the cast to their own devices. Alison Chitty’s monochrome designs, grey on grey on grey, became weary on the eye, and the drab 1940s’ costumes blurred any differentiation between the Babylonians and Hebrews.
Daniel Oren led a convincing musical performance in the pit – he’s evidently more at home in early Verdi than the other rep he’s conducted here – and the orchestra responded with idiomatic playing. Given the circumstances it’s no surprise that this was such a tense first night, so it’ll be fascinating to see what difference Netrebko makes in January.