‘Nabucco’ at Lyric Opera Baltimore

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No one in peril had faith in God and perished. Verdi’s celebration of spirit, sacrifice, and faith comes to The Lyric Opera Baltimore to close out the 2013/2014 season of Redemption and Revenge in the production of Nabucco. Based on the biblical story and the play by Auguste Anicet0Bourgeois and Francis Cornu, the opera is sung in Italian with English surtitles, Nabucco brings a vivid resplendence of one of history’s most persecuted faiths to life upon the stage. With a striking orchestra led by James Meena, the production is both gripping and moving, telling the tale of false idols and faith thriving in the face of adversity.

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Directed by Bernard Uzan, the performance blends the classic appearance and sound of Opera with new media technology and projections. Serving as the show’s Co-Scenic Projection Designer alongside Michael Baumgarten, Uzan transforms the scenes with the digital images. Their projection design work allows for the temple to burn to the ground in a burst of flames that floods the stage, and idols can easily shatter apart while still looking realistic. The morphing figure of the Star of David into Nabucco’s representation is quite impressive as well. All of these projections are flashed against simple stone walls, which mimic the interior of the temple and later the palace, creating stunning visual effects without loading in enormous set pieces that would otherwise be time consuming.

Conductor James Meena understands the nuances crafted into Verdi’s work. The swells of sound that occur just before an emotional line is sung, and the more complex rhythms that bounce along in the underscored sections of the opera chorus; all of which are skillfully produced from Meena’s conduction. The overture alone is an aural delight that echoes with perfection, despite its excessive length, and sets the tone for the production as it unfolds.

The Lyric Opera Baltimore Chorus fills the stage during larger numbers, their sound matching the multitude present in these scenes. A rich, robust, pitch of varying harmonies pours out in the opening “Gli’arredi festive giù cadano infranti” the lament of the Israelites as they face certain doom and destruction upon being defeated by the Babylonian King, Nabucco. Surging with emotion the chorus again rises to the challenge during the opening number of Scene II of Act III, “Va pensiero” their penitent lamenting prayer upon the banks of the Euphrates. This scene, combined with the slow-motion photo montage of the Jews in persecution— from biblical illustrations to live photographs of Nazi Concentration Camps— evokes tears throughout the audience.

The principle players in this production are sensational. Featured bass performers Christopher Job as the High Priest of Baal, and Oren Gradus as the High Priest of the Hebrews, create an epic low-range sound with their commanding bottom-heavy range. Gradus inspires hope with “Sperate, o figli!” and again his determination is proved unwavering as he joins in with the chorus for “Va pensiero.” Job, though only briefly featured in arias performed mainly by Abigaille, brings crystalline clarity to his robust voice.

Ismaele (Ta’u Pupu’a) brings a warm and welcoming tenor sound to the show. Rich dulcet tones flow from him during an untitled recollection duet shared with Fenena (Ola Rafalo.) As the shows’ mezzo-soprano, Rafalo delivers a truly emotional aria in “Oh dischiuso è il firmament!” a mournful yet hopeful outcry to God for her martyrdom. Despite it being her only aria, Rafalo’s balance of emotions within her vocal clarity is sensational and makes her character stand out despite being otherwise unseen for the majority of the opera.

The title character, King Nabucco of Babylon (Michael Chioldi) is a force to be reckoned with. Often storming the stage, his sturdy baritone sound blasts through soldiers, members of court, even the peasants without fear. Shifting dynamically from a powerful leader, to a stricken madman and once more to his position of king, Chioldi delivers a brilliant rendition of this man. His pompous yet empowering solo “Giù! prostrate! non son piu re, son Dio!” creates a harsh contrast to his desperate plea during “Deh perdona ad un padre che delira!” This song of desperation is filled with vulnerability and yearning; a remarkable transition for Chioldi before once more becoming triumphant, yet forgiving in his final number “Ah, torna Israello alle gioie del patrio suol!”

Photo courtesy of yusypovich.com

Photo courtesy of yusypovich.com

Leading ladies are of course so called because they lead the show and Abigaille (Francesca Mondanaro) is no exception. With a fierce vocal command, her soprano range is spectacular, her emotional capability outstanding. Mondanaro delivers a myriad of emotions throughout, running the gambit from powerful and haughty to broken and reformed. A true operatic delight, her arias are sublime; a present of divinity to the ears of the audience. It is difficult to say which is more moving, the cursed discovery of her lineage in “Ben io t’invenni, o fatal scritto!” where a surge of fury and broken dreams spurts forth in her incredible sustained holds of notes. Or her blast of triumph during “Deh perdona ad un padre che delira!”  duet shared with Chioldi. Both are remarkable performances. Her final aria, a delicate flower of sorrow and pleading forgiveness, wraps the character around completely, making her transformation astonishing.

A brilliant recreation of Verdi’s most stunning work-Nabucco is not to be missed!

Running Time: Approximately 3 hours, with one intermission.

Nabucco plays through May 11, 2014 at The Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric — 110 West Mount Royale Avenue, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (410) 900-1150 or purchase them online.

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