Review by Calliope Snodgrass

NABUCCO - Giuseppe Verdi.

The Royal Opera Hose Covent Garden London

Nabucco, a new production. Was this going to be a yawn with all those Hebrews huddled somewhere having a moan? Can’t say the prospect was enthralling to think about.

How wrong can instinct be, this is a glorious opera in a wonderful new production, and as is often done in these cash strapped days, shared with Milan, Barcelona and Chicago. Great that these productions circle the globe, it makes the dosh go further and then gives a lot more people the chance to see great stuff.

The production team are all new to me, well most of them, so that is exciting and as we know the music is terrific. Nabucco was the first opera of Verdi that brought him real fame. I wonder who is going to write the great freedom opera for today? The world changes little in it fundamental problems, one lot of people not getting on with the neighbours and wanting to wipe them out. All ends more or less happily here, wish such situations did today...

So where to start? This is a huge work and it is the chorus who are the stars. I couldn‘t count exactly how many were on stage but best part of a hundred and all singing like a host of angels who had descended from the flies. The chorus master, Renato Balsadonna, has done wonders, with so many voices, not sure why they put him so far down the programme for it is his work that makes this opera performance so terrific.

Then we have the problem of all these people crowded on stage, they are all in modern bits and pieces of dressing so there is no way to tell an Assyrian from a Hebrew. I tried for all of Act One to sort them out but gave up and left them to swirl about the stage. Being able to read people by their costumes really helps, but put even the king in a grey suit and one is lost.

Alison Citty, can be relied on as a designer, here the sets are simple and work well as do the video projections, filmed from above the set looking down on the crowds and then projected on the back wall, mysterious yet explanatory, this works well. Act One takes place in a temple, here Ms Chitty has put us in the Holocaust museum in Berlin, and why not? Then in a desert for the rest of the evening, all good and nothing intrudes on the singing, a very successful ‘less is more’ situation.

Yes, I started this all the wrong way round writing about design first, all the singing is impeccable, Abigaille, said to be Nabucco’s daughter, is stunning, Liudmyla Monastyrska’s voice could shatter wine glasses a mile away. I have never heard her before and definitely she must never to be missed in the future.

The conductor Nicola Luisotti was a delight as he leapt and waved his arms about in the orchestra pit. More like watching someone in the gym as he twirled and spun and waved, but the music he got from his band was gorgeous, especially his enthusiasm and control of the chorus.

The director Daniele Abbado was brilliant as well with his tight crowd control, all perfectly choreographed as they swirled and marched and ran wild. The famous chorus ‘Va pensiero...’ had the entire chorus standing in a circular tight huddle in the centre of the stage unmoving and lit from directly above. This worked most perfectly. The utter stillness was heart breaking.

This production made following the story impossible, but it didn’t matter too much, the story is simple and the music takes over completely.

This production will run and run and perhaps, like the first mid 19th century audience, we’ll all want to join in the songs. Freedom is such an enticing idea, and Verdi was right, song is a great way to purvey it.