Nabucco, opera by Giuseppe Verdi on a libretto by Temistocle Solera. First performed at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 9 March 1842. Performance by the Sächsische Staatsoper in the Semperoper in Dresden on the 5th of June, 2019
Ismaele: Massimo Giordano
Zaccaria: Vitalij Kowaljow
Abigaille: Saioa Hernández
Fenena: Christa Mayer
Abdallo: Simeon Esper
Anna: Tahnee Niboro
A balmy summer evening, an incredibly beautiful, historic opera house, a popular Verdi opera, and a promising cast. What could an opera lover wish more? Well … the all-dominant wish these days, obviously, seems to be the desire for an opera-loving stage director with respect for the art form, for the composer and his very own masterpiece, for the singers, and for the audience. None of all this was shown on that evening. Two words to describe this production: bloody sh … oddy, stressing on bloody.
Why, oh why is it so difficult to read what is written in Verdi’s artistic legacy? “Place: Jerusalem and Babylon. Time: 578 BC.” But then – what did that old-fashioned Verdi-guy know about opera, when there is David Bösch? Stage director David Bösch wished to have “something political” – so be it.
The “temple” in Jerusalem is transformed into ruins of a multi-storied house. Probably important, because probably a political symbol for probably something (Just I – ignorant – did not understand): a satellite dish on the roof. The Hebrew are a salmagundi of everything, probably symbols for probably something. Some guys wear a kippa – ok. But women with abayas and hijabs amongst them? And pregnant teenagers in jogging suits? Of course, this all is a political statement. Especially when Nabucco enters in a jeep, looking like a mixture between Fidel Castro, Muammar Gaddafi and Tom Selleck. This is how we have to imagine a Babylonian king in the 6th century BC, whilst Abigaille is a cruel female soldier with a pistol (and later a golden evening gown). Finally we know it. The high priest of Baal, looking like a butcher, has only one intention: He wants to see blood. More blood. So Abigaille has to cut a bull’s throat, and lots of blood are running down from the bull, which is hanging above the stage. The high priest splatters the crowd with the blood. Later, he will cut a young girl’s throat on stage, too. Lucky people who do not know Verdi’s Nabucco or the Italian language. They will not understand the huge discrepancies between Verdi’s masterpiece and this bloody s… pectacle.
To be honest: At some points I felt terrible, not only for myself, but for many elderly audience members, who were probably survivors of several bloody wars and/or revolutions … How must they have felt, seeing all the blood, and Nabucco, playing Russian Roulette with a woman?
But well, what do I know about a genius’s intentions? Everything was probably a symbol for something, a political statement. Just I – ignorant – refused to understand. The only thing I understood: David Bösch did not want the paying audience to have a culturally entertaining, relaxing, or uplifting evening, trying to escape from a bloody stressful, bloody cruel, and bloody disgusting everyday’s reality. He had decided we did not deserve a break, so one had to sit through a bloody weird evening, if one wanted to hear Verdi’s music. And this (of course, only a “side-effect” of opera) was very exciting. In several ways.
Omer Meir Wellber, guest conductor, directed the Sächsische Staatskapelle, not only with his baton, but with his arms, legs, body, and face. He was jumping, dancing, swaying, singing and waving. One could see how much joy, and love for the music he had. Six of his eyes were always on the singers, six other eyes were always on the musicians.
Sometimes I thought his tempi to be a bit strange, but at the end of an aria or a phrase, I found myself finding it exciting and liking it. He managed to deliver high-voltage music, carried by Verdi’s and by his own, individual spirit.
Nabucco, the title role, brought another unexpected aspect to the performance. This 5th of June, 2019, was meant to be Plácido Domingo’s debut at the Semperoper. Before the curtain rose (oh, I forgot, they had left away the curtain, probably a symbol for something), the director of the house came out to announce Mr Domingo was not feeling well, but he would try to sing. Domingo had already been indisposed in his final Macbeth performance in Berlin one week ago, and, apparently, had not recovered since then. However, he made his debut – and came out in his Castro-Gadaffi-Magnum-uniform to sing. One could see in his pale face he was not feeling well at all, physically, and probably also psychically, because he is known for absolutely disliking guns and pistols, wars, violence, etc. Now he found himself in the middle of a scene, not written by Verdi, with a dead baby in a coffin, with a pistol in his own hands – and forced to smoke a cigar on stage (very “good” for a singer who is suffering of bronchitis and/or tracheitis). However, his singing did not sound “indisposed”. The voice was strong and powerful, secure from bottom- to top notes. One could hardly believe his “being indisposed” – but unfortunately, it was true. After the intermission, the director came out again and announced that Mr Domingo was suffering too much, and was afraid to completely loose his voice. However, they had another Nabucco, stepping in on a short notice. Markus Marquardt, a German bass-baritone, member of the ensemble at the Semperoper, took over the singing part, singing from the left side of the stage, while a third Nabucco was acting the part in the scenes. Mr Marquardt has a beautiful, extremely strong bass-baritone voice, he was singing with a very clear diction. But it was somehow weird to try to concentrate on the opera with a “mute” Nabucco on stage, looking like a totally out-of-place person who reminded me of Louis de Funes, and a powerfully singing, but motionless Nabucco in the wings.
A great achievement of the rest of the cast, though, to finish that challenging evening without visible or audible distractions. Abigaille was sung by the Spanish soprano Saioa Hernández. Her voice was strong enough to fill the house, even though it tends to become shrill on the very top notes in full volume. She mastered the difficult role very well, the vocal decorations were stunning, and her acting was also credible. She made a very good impression with some slight, minor “buts” for me. Fenena, German mezzo soprano and member of the ensemble Christa Mayer , was a pleasant surprise for me. She has a beautiful timbre, crystal-clear top-notes, and a very good projection. Also actingwise, she managed to make a lot of the sometimes less valued role of Fenena – impressive! Vitalij Kowaljow was a striking Zaccaria. He was in full command of his powerful voice, and it was pure joy to absorb his sound. For some reason I sometimes had the feeling he was standing “offside” the rest of the cast, even when he was in the centre. A good stage director would have been able to avoid that, maybe. But well … it was probably a symbol for something (or, maybe, maybe his subconscious said it did not want to have anything to do with that bloody s…pectacle on stage?)
Ismaele was Massimo Giordano. His very first notes left me being afraid he could crack, but he very quickly gained more secureness, and Ismaele’s “big” aria “Il Maledetto” was fine. A whiff too lyric, maybe, in all that bloody and weird surrounding.
The chorus and the orchestra deserved an extra bravo for their excellent, high-level performance.
So – the whole cast, including the different Nabuccos – was great, but I refuse saying that I saw Verdi’s Nabucco. It was probably a symbol for something I – ignorant – just did not understand. Maybe I still need to learn that stage directors’ intentions are much more important than a composer’s artistic legacy …
However, my only comfort is: even in 100 years people will know who Verdi was. But how many will then know who David Bösch was? History will tell …
Gabi Eder (Published on 6/6/2019)