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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Nabucco- opera in four parts (1842)
Nabucco, King of Babylon, Amartuvshin Enkhbat (baritone); Zaccaria, High Priest of the Hebrews, Michele Pertusi (bass); Abigaille, slave, believed to be the eldest daughter of Nabucco, Saioa HernŠndez (soprano); Fenena, daughter of Nabucco, Annalisa Stroppa (soprano); Ismaele, Hebrew in love with Fenena Ivan Magrž, (tenor); High Priest of Baal, Gianluca Breda (bass); Abdalla, an officer in the service of Nabucco, Manuel Pierattelli (tenor); Anna, Zaccaria’s sister, Elisabetta Zizzo (soprano)
Chorus of the Teatro Regio di Parma
Orchestra Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini/Francesco Ivan Ciampa
Directors, Stefano Ricci and Gianni Forte. Stage Designer, Nicholas Bovey
Video Director, Matteo Ricchetti.
rec. 29th September 2019, Teatro Regio di Parma, Verdi Festival
Video format HD 1080i. Aspect 16:9. Sound Format, PCM 1Stereo. DTS-HD MA 5.1
Booklet notes in English, German, French
Subtitles: Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese
Bonus, interview with co-directors DYNAMIC Blu-ray 57867 
Rarely has fame come to an opera composer as quickly as it did to Giuseppe Verdi. Not, I hasten to add, in terms of his age - the contrary might be more correct - but rather via the impact of an early work, Nabucco being only his third opera. With that in mind, I give here an extended introduction to the work, how it came to be staged and its immediate impact. I believe the background and success of Nabucco need some extra introduction as the work became the icon, even signature tune, of the Risorgimento, the fight for a united independent Italy which was eventually realised in 1860 when the composer himself was elected to the country’s first parliament, his constituency being Parma. Consequently, its stirring, vibrant music, and the slaves’ chorus in part three, Va pensiero sull’all dorate, known universally as The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves (CH.30), have been its hallmark ever since and find a place in every opera enthusiast’s heart. It was the first great success among the twenty-eight operas penned by Verdi which have formed the backbone of the operatic stage repertoire.
In 1841, on returning to Milan from Genoa where Oberto had been stage, Verdi met with the La Scala impresario Bartolomeo Merelli who pressed on the composer the libretto of Nabucodonosor by Temistocle Solera. Perhaps to satisfy Merelli, Verdi read the libretto and was greatly stimulated by it. Between the spring and early autumn of 1841, the opera which came to be called Nabucco, the third in the Verdi canon, was written. To Verdi’s chagrin, its completion was too late for inclusion in the La Scala season whose sequence (Cartellone) had already been completed and published. It took some vehement correspondence from the composer before the opera was premiered on March 9th 1842 using second hand sets but with a first-rate baritone and bass. Giuseppina Strepponi, who was to be a great influence in Verdi’s life, sang Abigaille, but was in poor voice. The work was a resounding success and although the season had only ten days to run Nabucco was given eight more times. The delighted Merelli promptly scheduled a revival for the following autumn when there were another sixty-seven performances, breaking all La Scala records. The chorus Va pensiero was regularly encored with the Milanese public, under Austrian occupation, clearly identifying themselves with the oppressed Hebrews of the story. It was a tenuous start to the identification of Verdi and his operas with the movement, later in the 1840s, for the liberation and unification of Italy termed the Risorgimento.
Whereas Verdi’s first two operas could be seen as Donizettian in idiom, flavour and pace, Nabucco was something different. The forward thrust and vibrancy of the music were entirely different from those two works and were to be the hallmark of Verdi’s subsequent early period operas. Rossini had used the chorus as a major protagonist in a number of his works, particularly the opere serie of his compositionally mature Naples period and in a manner that his successor, Donizetti, who was present at the Nabucco premiere did not. In Nabucco, Verdi makes full use of the chorus as a major protagonist with the opening Che Gli arredi festivi (CH.3).
This staging and performance are taken from the 2019 Parma Verdi Festival. This event is held every year in the aesthetically pleasing theatre of Palma, the major town nearest Verdi’s birthplace. Over the years, several notable performances from the Festival, of Verdi’s music in particular, have been filmed and acclaimed. I regret, after my extended introduction, to record that of the many admirable stagings of Verdi operas I have seen from Parma, and other centres in Italy and elsewhere in the world, this is the most execrable and inappropriate to have come my way in over seventy years of opera going. In all honesty, I have often found the emergence of some so-called Regietheater and Concept Productions to be rather boring and not true to a composer’s work; however, never have I previously seen a production that is so inimical to the text as this. The opening part is set on a modern battleship no less and proceeds to even less relevant places and spaces. The creators have added a dance troupe to distract from the music and which adds nothing to the relevance of either the Verdi’s music or the story on which the libretto is based. I was so appalled by this staging that I resorted to reading contemporary reviews in the Italian, British and other sources and found that, their views were all, to varying degrees but without exception, similar to my own: that this production was neither representative of, nor encompassed, any concept related to Verdi’s creation. It seems, too, from the reviews and comments I have read, that those were the views expressed, very volubly by the audience. The Italian press use the term logginisti to describe audience members, particularly those who do not find either the performance or staging to their liking and voice their opinions volubly. They were apparently very voluble, to say the least, at the premiere and successive performances of this production in respect of the set as well as the inappropriate costumes, examples being Abigail’s haute couture dresses and Zaccaria being portrayed as a Christian priest complete with dog collar.
Of course, thankfully on such occasions, staging is not everything, the actual musical performance, along with the sung and acted realisations, also having a measurable impact and inducing audience appreciation to compensate for the jeers at the more outlandish aspects of the production. There is quality for the audience to appreciate in both the singing, particularly from the outstandingly vibrant chorus, and the orchestral contributions. The singing of that most popular of Verdi choruses, Va pensiero sull’ali dorate (CH. 30) is outstanding, as are the other sung contributions and efforts of the chorus to add realism at all times in their acted and sung contribution, albeit that they are sometimes defeated by the inappropriateness of their stage costumes. Among the soloists I must mention first that of a newcomer to me in the person of Mongolian Amartuvshin Enkhbat in the title role. His is a Verdi baritone voice to cherish in its vocal majesty of expression and variety of tonal nuance. His singing and acted portrayal promises much and I am expecting to see his name on leading world playbills very soon. Michele Pertusi is altogether older and well-known as a reliable and steady as actor and singer, although I detect some vocal wear and tear on the odd occasion. Notable also is Spanish soprano Saioa HernŠndez who sings with power and expression albeit with the odd flaw when under pressure in the stratospheric agility and range the role demands. She looks particularly appealing in the haute couture dresses deemed appropriate for this production. As Ismaele, a Hebrew in love with Fenena, Ivan Magrž displays little of vocal distinction.
While the musical side and singing do honour to Verdi’s first great opera, the staging, is the most excruciating I have ever seen in over seventy years of opera going. It demeans the performers and a musical creation which has stood the test of time.
Robert J Farr
Appendix: the background to the composition ofNabucco
Verdi completed his studies in Milan and returned to his hometown of Bussetto in 1835, the year notable for Bellini’s death and the premiere in Naples of Lucia di Lamermoor, Donizetti’s forty-seventh opera. He was appointed maestro di musician in Bussetto, a secular post which involved conducting the concerts of the Philharmonic society as well as giving lessons at the music school in vocal and keyboard music. The contract was for nine years with a get-out clause, for either party, after three. While performing his conducting and teaching duties, Verdi composed marches, overtures and a mass as well as a complete set of vespers. Meanwhile he was chaffing at more ambitious plans including the composition of an opera. He was in contact with Milan and a series of letters indicates the writing of Rocester to a libretto by the Milanese journalist Antonia Piazza, which Verdi tried without success to get staged in Parma. Encouraged by friends in Milan, and with the help of the librettist Temistocle Solera, he revised the work under the title of Oberto conte di Boniface. resigned his Bussetto post in October 1838 and, determined to get the work staged, left for Milan, along with his wife and surviving child, in February 1839. He was already twenty-six years old; at the same age, Rossini – who was twenty when his first stage work was premiered - was internationally acclaimed and had had twenty-four of his operas staged, while Donizetti first opera was presented in his late teens.
In 1839, Milan was a city of one hundred and fifty thousand people. It had been ceded to Austria under the terms of The Congress of Vienna in 1815 and was the capital of the province of Lombardy-Venetia. The occupying Austrians kept a tight rein on the local population. There were Austrian soldiery everywhere and police vigilance was unceasing as was the detailed activities of the censor who determined the political and religious suitability of any play or opera proposed for presentation in the city’s theatres. Few of the population chafed at the situation. Any awareness of the concept of a united Italy was restricted to some exiles and literati. The local aristocracy mingled with artistes in their salons.
The La Scala theatre was run jointly with a theatre in Vienna under the direction of the impresario Bartolomeo Merelli, who had written libretti for Donizetti. Its operatic activities could be seen as a tool of social control; an opiate administered by a superb roster of singers and dancers. It was in this milieu that Verdi sought to establish himself as an opera composer.
Merelli agreed to present Verdi’s opera in the spring of 1839 bearing all the costs of the production himself, a high risk with a composer untried before the public. Due to illness among singers, Oberto conte di Boniface, the first in the Verdian oeuvre, was not premiered until the 17th November. The opera was a big enough success for Merelli to extend the number of scheduled performances to fourteen that season and twelve the next. He also sold the score to Ricordi for the not inconsiderable sum of two thousand Austrian Lire, thus recouping some of his investment. More importantly for Verdi, Merelli contracted the composer for three more operas to be presented over the next two years for a fee of four thousand Lire each and half the money raised if the score were sold.
The first of the three contracted operas to follow Oberto for La Scala was initially to have been Il Proscritto, a libretto written by Gaetano Rossi who had provided Rossini with the librettos for Tancredi and Semiramide. Before Verdi could commence work, Merelli’s plans changed; he needed an opera buffa and he passed several texts by the house poet, Romani, over to Verdi. None of the proposed subjects appealed, but with time short he settled on Il finto Stanislau written twenty years earlier and performed at La Scala in 1818 and never revived. The title of the work was changed to Un giorno di Regno (King for a Day), Verdi’s second opera. During the work’s composition, in June 1840, on the feast of Corpus Christi, Verdi’s wife died of encephalitis. To crown his misfortunes Un giorno di Regno, premiered on September 5th, was whistled off the stage at its first performance. Merelli replaced the scheduled performances of Un giorno di Regno with further performances of Oberto a mere six weeks after the failed opening night of the buffo work.
However, Verdi’s next opera, composed to a libretto presented to him by Merelli, was Nabucco, the opera which consolidated his reputation as great opera composer, enabling him henceforth to embark on a career path from which he never looked back.